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Tom Randle

Welsh National Opera

Le Vin herbé

Sweet compassion instead of ecstatic love

Flashback | Martin

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Iseult's MotherCatherine Wyn-Rogers
Iseult, the Fair Princess of IrelandCaitlin Hulcup
Brangien, her companionRosie Hay
Mark, King of CornwallHoward Kirk
Tristan, his nephewTom Randle
Duke Hoël, a nobleman of BrittanyStephen Wells
Kaherdin, his sonGareth Dafydd Morris
Iseult of the White Hands, his daughterSian Meinir
ChorusWelsh National Opera Chorus
OrchestraWelsh National Opera Orchestra

MusicFrank Martin
TextFrank Martin
ConductorJames Southall
DirectorPolly Graham
Set DesignerApril Dalton
Costume DesignerApril Dalton
Lighting DesignerTim Mitchell
ChoreographerJo Fong
Chorus MasterStephen Harris

Sweet compassion instead of ecstatic love: Frank Martin’s Le vin herbé offers a new interpretation of the tale of Tristan and Iseult, which goes beyond Wagnerian pathos. Tom Randle and Caitlin Hulcup embody the fatal lovers in the new production by Welsh National Opera.

A magic potion becomes both a blessing and a curse for two young people. Tristan is about to bring the Irish princess Iseult to Cornwall where she is to marry his uncle, King Mark. A love potion has been prepared to get the arranged marriage off to a happy start. But Brangien, Iseult’s chambermaid, pours it into the goblets of her mistress and the Cornish knight. The two lovers are not capable of hiding their feelings, even if their love means treason to the crown.

Tristan and Iseult is one of the most famous legends of the European Middle Ages. Richard Wagner drew inspiration from the 12th century romance written by Gottfried von Strassburg and composed one of his most ground-breaking operas: Tristan und Isolde.

Frank Martin’s ‘worldly oratorio’ Le vin herbé, premiered in 1941 in Zurich, has not much in common with the Wagnerian opera other than the source material. Where Wagner tends to test the symphonic orchestra to the fullest, Martin only relies on seven string instruments and a piano. His music draws inspiration from early polyphonic sacral music, from Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande, and Schoenberg’s twelve-tone technique. The plot is narrated by a chorus. 

Polly Graham directs Le vin herbé, which recently opened at the Welsh National Opera to great public and critical acclaim. The ensemble of eight musicians, conducted by James Southall, sits directly on stage. As Tristan and Iseult, Tom Randle and Caitlin Hulcup lead an ensemble of more than forty singers.