Review: Le Vin herbé, Wales Millennium Centre

Le Vin herbé, Thursday 16th February, Wales Millennium Centre, Reviewer: Hannah Hopkins

Le Vin herbé is my introduction to opera and Polly Graham’s staging for the Welsh National Opera is an understated and contemporary affair with all the intricacies that I expected from the genre.

Le Vin herbé tells the tale of Iseult the Fair, Princess of Ireland, is taken by sea to marry King Mark by Mark’s nephew, Tristan. Iseult is deeply saddened to be taken away from her homeland and during the journey drinks a love potion concocted by her mother, intended for Iseult and Mark. Tristan and Iseult fall madly in love with each other.

Tristan and Iseult – sung effortlessly by Tom Randle and Caitlin Hulcup – can neither love nor die with each other, finding themselves torn between passionate love and chivalry. The lovers run away from King Mark’s court to live in the wild, where Mark finds them sleeping but leaves them unharmed. Tristan and Iseult then regret the pain they have caused themselves and others, the latter returning to King Mark, and Tristan to his homeland of Brittany.

The set is minimal, the action taking place in the empty-shell of the theatre, with only a raised walkway forming the deck of a ship being particularly noticeable. An octet of strings and piano, led by conductor James Southall, form the heart of the production, afore the raised platform. The score is dark and intriguing, and in some cases intense, complementing the poignant tale perfectly. The movement is fluid, the cast remain on stage scene after scene, but individual storytellers move forward to address the audience directly and at one seminal point in the performance, move into the audience. The chorus are the narrators of the piece, and their animated presence is what gives the performance life. Their actions give the psychological dimension to the plot, recreating an intense darkness and despair through their movements and words.

An unmasked and truly poignant performance.

by Hannah Hopkins