A soldier, returning from the wars, sits beside a sunlit pool and plays his violin. The music attracts the attention of the Devil, in the guise of a butterfly collector, who asks for the violin. The soldier refuses and the Devil offers him a book of riches in exchange. The soldier accepts, but the Devil finds he cannot play the violin and persuades the soldier to give him lessons in his splendid mansion. On returning to his native village, the soldier is treated like a forbidding stranger. Friends disappear behind shuttered windows: his mother screams at the sight of him: his betrothed, married to another, hugs her children close to her as if to protect them from an unknown evil.
With Robert Helpmann playing the eight different roles of the Devil’s disguises, this is a combination of story, melodrama and ballet that sets the stage for some of Stravinsky’s most brilliant music.