The trouble (at least, one trouble) with putting the Devil on stage is that he is automatically colorful and instantly interesting. Give him half a chance and he is likely to steal the show. That nearly happened Saturday night in the Terrace Theater when the Theater Chamber Players opened their season with Stravinsky's "L'Histoire du Soldat," even with two international stars on the stage--Claire Bloom as narrator and Leon Fleisher as conductor. In the Devil's role Timothy Rice colored his voice with just the right shade of con-man geniality while bargaining for the soldier's fiddle (a symbol of his soul) and put a rich, gloating accent into his tone when he used a word like "gold."
A second potential show-stealer was Naoko Tanaka, the quietly unassuming second violinist of the ensemble's string quartet, who took the thematically important violin part in "L'Histoire" and made the most of it--not only in the passages that are almost a fragmentary violin concerto but in the little segments where the violin provides a sort of background noise for the soldier tuning up or the Devil trying to play a tune. When the scenario required her to sound scratchy, she was super-scratchy, but her playing was also sweet, brilliant and rhythmically incisive when these qualities were needed. With percussionist Albert Mertz and clarinetist Loren Kitt sharing the instrumental spotlight, this was as well-played a performance as I have ever heard, live or on records.
Claire Bloom was splendid, deftly underlining the emotional nuances of the story, and playing to and with her colleagues like a true chamber musician. She was particularly effective when she impersonated the Princess. Alexander Spencer, as the Soldier, was up to the production's high dramatic standards, and Fleisher conducted with his usual keen intelligence and authoritative musicianship.
Performance standards were equally high in the brief, brilliant Three Pieces for string quartet that opened the all-Stravinsky program and in the angular melodies and motor rhythms of the little Concertino, also for string quartet. Four trombones and tenor James MacDonald were added for a fine performance of "In Memoriam Dylan Thomas."