Review: WNO – Le Vin herbé @ WMC 

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Welsh National Opera – Le Vin herbé
Wales Millenium Centre
Thursday 16th February 2016

We have glugged Love Poisoned Chalice and we now feel the terrible effects of this potent drink…

I’m all for WNOs venture into newly communised operatic work and pieces that are rarities and not in today’s repertoire. Swiss composer Frank Martin (produced more French than read out) created his Le Vin herbé as a concert piece for 12 singers, piano and a small string section. His disgust at Hitler’s adoration of the music of German composer Richard Wagner, lead Martin to create a much more Gallic interpretation of the story of Tristan.

Though Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde is an operatic masterpiece, Martin’s took a different approach by utilising Breton sources of the story. His piece is an entirely different venture, with parts of the story featuring slight variants. The second Iseult character is a bizarre and mean touch to the Breton branch of the story. Turns out there’s even a Welsh version with King Arthur.

Cuts in the arts wreak all over this piece. This anti-production by Polly Graham is basically a ramp on stage in the Donald Gordon theatre and fluttering white sheets. The choir is tripled, just for the sake of all of WNOs chorus are present. This subtle piece would have faired better in the WMCs Western Studio, as having the distractive mass chorus and lack of production elements add to the overkill. Martin’s music also incorporates 12 tone techniques, though it’s still has a cold, near melodic numbness to the ear.

It’s a simple of story of Tristan, sent to retrieve Princess Iseult from Ireland. She is to marry Tristan’s uncle King Mark, though a potion makes them fall in love with each over, even before the King has seen his bride to be. Mark is later horrified by the betrayal and plots to kill them. The love-death obsession of the fair couple is summed up in a sad, but inevitable conclusion.

As Tristan, Tom Randle has sex appeal, though his voice faltered at times and could have gone into pearl noir territory. Caitlin Hulcup is a curious Iseult, though the music does little to highlight her voice. Catherine Wyn-Rogers is her mother, a role with little to engage with and lacking in dramatic restraint.

Brangien, here played by Rosie Hay with even less to work with. Sian Meiner is the story’s second Iseult, dubbed of the White Hand. Her betrayal of Tristan and his eventual death, are played with a deeply menacing performance and dramatic timing. Though is was great to see the conducting of James Southall and the musicians on stage, it’s the unsure fluidity of score which adds little variety and a lack of dramatic resonance.

The sad thing is with a work like this is that it will always be compared to Wagner’s Tristan and Debussy’s Pelléas.

Rating: 2 stars

An extended performance of Satie’s Vexations takes place around Cardiff in 2017, as a fundraiser for OCD UK, with such venues as the Wales Millennium Centre as locations (more to be confirmed). We also need more musicians, venues, electronics artists, rap artists and artists in all fields to help to complete the piece. Follow #CardiffVexations & @weepingtudor on social media to see more! 

Photo credit: Robert Workman


Review: WNO – Madam Butterfly  @ WMC 

Review: WNO – La bohème @ WMC

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