Luigi Veronesi and The Soldier’s Tale

Stravinsky’s The Soldier’s Tale has been a significant presence in my creative life over the past few years. Right now in the studio it’s again featuring large. For my forthcoming exhibition I’m making a series of paintings based on the visual contribution I made to the Mid Wales Chamber Orchestra presentation of The Soldier’s Tale at the 2013 Hay Festival. Once again Joseph the Soldier and his sleepy Princess are preoccupying me, as I translate the maquettes made last year for the animated film…

… into paintings

So I was excited when some recent research turned up images of Constructivist marionettes for The Soldier’s Tale, made in 1942 by the artist Luigi Veronesi. (1908 -1980)

Above: the Princess and the Ballerina. Interesting that there should be two significantly different puppets, as the Princess, who in the libretto is required to dance, is usually performed by a ballerina. (Svetlana Beriosova was the Princess in the 1964 film of The Soldier’s Tale.)

Above: the Narrator

Above: the Devil. Throughout The Soldier’s Tale the Devil appears in various disguises, and it would seem that these two puppets are an expression of his duplicity.

I haven’t been able to find out anything more about the puppets or the production other than these images. If anyone can offer further information, I’d be much obliged.

8 thoughts on “Luigi Veronesi and The Soldier’s Tale

  1. Hello! I found your art and I would like to use it for a presentation about Stravinsky’s wartime music. It’s for a music history class and will be presented for a school-affiliated concert that focuses on composers who wrote songs just for WWI.

  2. Pingback: Puppet Catch-up: Clive’s Posts | Clive Hicks-Jenkins' Artlog:

  3. Thanks for posting these pics Clive (and yesterday’s Ekster marionettes); as somebody who is going down the constructivist road for my Puppet Challenge contribution, I couldn’t ask for more! I particularly love these Veronesi ones , they have a touch of de Chirico about them and those devils are fab

    • I just wish there were images of a Joseph puppet, but an exhaustive web-search hasn’t yet turned up anything. I’ll keep looking.

    • Well, Liz and Jacqui, that’s very sweet of you both. Thank you.

      Even today Stravinsky’s music for The Soldier’s Tale feels sharp and edgy, and I can imagine that for its first audiences it would have sounded very modern indeed. That elegantly wasp-waisted Veronesi Narrator is right on the button with the Jazz Age sensibility that undulates so erotically through the Princess’s ‘dance’. (I can see him, the louche observer to her cavortings, leaning on a cocktail bar with a dry martini in one hand!) Thinking about it, the emotionally distancing effect Constructivist puppets would have on the viewers, is quite in keeping with the historic context of the piece, and would be an exciting idea for any artist to explore.

      But for me, at the heart of The Soldier’s Tale is poor, sweet-natured Joseph, duped at every turn by those he trusts. In the Capitalist universe he’s just another resource to be snatched, and for the longest time he doesn’t even realise he’s been trapped in a net that’s closing tightly around him. I’ve explored quite a few ways of representing the story and characters over the years, and the Joseph of my animated film for last year’s Hay Festival has evolved over time. In the images I made for the 2012 Washington presentation of the piece, Joseph was a lean, slope-eyed fellow, with trim twirled moustaches and goatee and his soldier’s cap at a rakish angle. Everybody who saw him loved him, but he was just eye-candy really, and at the end of the day he didn’t invite the sympathy I felt was the missing ingredient.

      It was quite hard to find an expressive Joseph that ticked all the boxes, but when the first drawings of the Joseph you see now, emerged, then I knew that at last I’d found him. I think that the boyishness, the bright, shiny face alight with happy expectation, shows us what is being lost.

      I think that all too often creative people forget the living, beating, fragile heart at the centre of all stories of lost innocence, and this time around, I wanted to show it. I wanted to get it right, and I feel I did.

      I wanted too, in the animated film, to show what was ugly at the heart of the Princess, and to direct an arc-lamp straight through the the surface prettiness. I gave her the full, overblown ruffled and ribboned ‘Princess’ look for the last chapter, though not before having first exposed the drugged-up, slovenly creature beneath the finery. But Joseph, poor Joseph, he saw only what he wanted to see, and she fooled him.

  4. Oh these are very elegant. But they have a detatchment about them that your creations don’t have. I love them to look at but also find them a little disconcerting, whereas I love your Joseph and want to save him.

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