Le Vin herbé
Originally forming part of Welsh National Opera’s Spring 2017 Season this rarely performed work was brought to the stage in a stripped back production directed by Polly Graham.
Frank Martin’s intimate opera offers a very different take on the legend of Tristan and Isolde in an up to date retelling of the story. Tristan and Iseult’s love for each other is awakened when they accidentally drink a potion meant for Iseult and her new husband Mark on their wedding night. Despite this, Iseult still marries Mark (Tristan’s uncle), however she flees to the forest with Tristan shortly afterwards. Mark follows them, where he forgives and offers them his blessing; however the guilt tears the couple apart. Tristan marries another, but after an accident he calls for his original love. Will they be reunited in time or will others conspire to keep them apart?
The entire WNO Chorus acts as narrator, breathtakingly unravelling the story through their song. The Orchestra of 8 musicians joins the Company on stage giving you a unique view of all the elements of an opera coming together.
Download our mini programme
Storytellers invite us to hear the story of Tristan and Iseult.
As the knights of Cornwall prepare to take Iseult the Fair, Princess of Ireland, back with them to Cornwall, to marry Mark, their King, her mother concocts a magic potion in secret. She instructs Iseult’s companion, Brangien, to keep the potion hidden until Iseult’s wedding night, when she must pour it into a bridal cup for the newlyweds to drink together. It has the power to make those who drink it fall deeply in love.
The ship sets sail from Ireland. Iseult is angry with Tristan, King Mark’s nephew, for killing Morold, her fiancé, and for taking her away from her homeland. Iseult curses the ship and her fate: she would rather die in her own land than live in the land of King Mark.
The wind drops and the sun blazes down. Tristan gives the order to land and the crew goes ashore. Finding themselves thirsty, Iseult and Tristan call for a drink. Iseult’s young maid mistakenly gives them the magic potion thinking it is wine; they drink and fall hopelessly in love. As the ship continues its journey to Cornwall, Tristan realises that he loves the future wife of his uncle and foster father, King Mark. He and Iseult are tormented by their unspoken love for one another. Brangien warns them they have drunk their ‘love and death’ in the potion, but she knows it is too late – the lovers are too deeply involved to turn back. Tristan and Iseult surrender to their passion.
Iseult has been married to King Mark and made Queen, but the love affair with Tristan has continued. On discovering this, King Mark has imprisoned them both. Tristan escapes and rescues Iseult and together they find refuge in the forest of Morois with their companion, Gorvenal.
A vengeful King Mark finds Tristan and Iseult lying asleep and is about to kill them when he sees an unsheathed sword lying between their sleeping bodies, keeping them apart. He decides to spare them and leaves his own sword behind as a sign that he chose to be merciful.
Tristan is sent into conflict by this sign. He remembers all that King Mark has done for him, and regrets his exile. Both Tristan and Iseult feel guilty at their betrayal of King Mark. They resolve to leave the forest; Iseult will return to the King and Tristan will go into exile, to his home country of Brittany.
Tristan wanders for years, convinced that Iseult has forgotten him. He helps Duke Hoël of Brittany fight a war with the Kingdom of Nantes. Duke Hoël summons Tristan and, in thanks for saving the country gives him his daughter, Iseult of the White Hands, as wife.
Fatally injured in battle, Tristan longs to see Iseult the Fair once more. Iseult of the White Hands overhears him asking his friend, Kaherdin, to take a ring to Iseult the Fair as a token of his enduring love and to beg her to come to him. He instructs Kaherdin to take his best ship and, on return, to display a white sail if Iseult is with him, a black sail if not.
Iseult the Fair returns with Kaherdin but their ship is becalmed. The dying Tristan thinks that she has refused to come to him. Iseult of the White Hands sees the ship approaching, flying a white sail, but lies to Tristan, telling him that the sail is black. Hearing this, Tristan dies.
Coming ashore to find all the people mourning Tristan’s death, Iseult the Fair lies down and dies beside him.
King Mark buries the lovers side by side. A briar springs up between the two coffins, growing back each time it is cut down
Cast and creative
Storytellers Full Company
Iseult’s mother Catherine Wyn-Rogers
Iseult the Fair Princess of Ireland Caitlin Hulcup
Brangien her companion Rosie Hay
Mark King of Cornwall Howard Kirk
Tristan his nephew Tom Randle
Duke Hoël a nobleman of Brittany Stephen Wells
Kaherdin his son Gareth Dafydd Morris
Iseult of the White Hands his daughter Sian Meinir
Solo narrators Anitra Blaxhall, Rosie Hay, Sarah Pope, Joe Roche, Howard Kirk, Stephen Wells, Catherine Wyn-Rogers
Conductor James Southall
Director Polly Graham
Designer April Dalton
Lighting Designer Tim Mitchell
Musical Preparation David Doidge, James Southall, Stephen Wood
Movement Director Jo Fong