Review: Love’s Poisoned Chalice season – Madam Butterfly & Le Vin Herbe

Madam Butterfly & Le Vin Herbe

Love’s Poisoned Chalice

Welsh National Opera at Wales Millenium Centre

 

Madam Butterfly 4 Stars

Sweet little Butterfly is but 15. A child.  A beautiful, lost child to us.

Pinkerton is to our eyes horribly unattractive, horrible in deed, fact and person. I don’t want him anywhere near her.

But, she is in love and he is in lust.

He is the archetypal American soldier – overpaid, oversexed and over here. He has the tacit and overt support of his colleagues. He blinds Butterfly’s friends and family with his pomp and wealth.

It is an arranged marriage. Butterfly enters into it with enthusiasm and a love for Pinkerton which is not reciprocated.

He, of course, leaves her. She brings up their child with the help of her servant, Suzuki, over the 3 years of his absence in hope and penury. Pinkerton returns with his American wife and they assume the boy as their own. Butterfly kills herself. She has loved too much.

Not a new story in any sense. It is utterly predictable and pitiful. And honest.

I have seen this production before but I have not heard or seen such an utterly perfect Butterfly before. She is a little light burning into the sepia staging. She sings with her soul on fire.

 

Le Vin Herbe  5 Stars

The story of Tristan and Iseult the fair. Accidental lovers brought together by circumstance and potions. Their love is inconvenient and uncontrollable. Their exile and their isolation disrupted by a secret visit from the king, Iseult’s husband to be, who leaves his sword to show his lenience. The lovers overthink his intentions and return to their respective lives at court.

Tristan marries Iseult of the white hands who takes her revenge on his love for the ‘other woman’ when he is dying. Iseult returns to die over his dead body. The brambles entwine their bodies for eternity.

An outstanding production. Skeletal, dark, passionate, ironic.  Show-stealing leads against an outstanding chorus. This is a well-known story well told and chest-beatingly hot.

A few thoughts:

Now, both of these operas are about love and life and fate and death. They both imply you can love too much. They both sing to us of the nasty twisty business of chance and tell us that passion will end badly. They both show us women who give up their hearts to their men, to their lords and masters.

Butterfly sees a way to a happy, comfortable, settled life with her soldier and gives up her faith, family and friends to do so. Iseult gives up a husband, crown, wealth and status to follow her knight into the woods to live in a poor shed full of flowers.

Pinkerton makes no sacrifices; he is not in love. Butterfly, Tristan and Iseult are all in thrall to love and make the ultimate sacrifice. Pinkerton is rewarded for his disinterest.

Messing with fate is clearly a bad idea but the music it invokes is not. These are two visually and vocally disparate operas with similar stories to tell. They are well chosen, well cast and masterly.

 

Madam Butterfly’s Un Bel Di Vedremo is Puccini at his best; Le Vin Herbe is opera at its best.

 

Event:                   Madam Butterfly, Puccini

Seen:                    Feb 10, 2017

Website:              https://www.wno.org.uk/event/madam-butterfly-0

Running:              Friday, February 10, 2017 – Saturday, April 29, 2017

Conductor                           Lawrence Foster (until 4 Mar). Andrew Greenwood (from 24 Mar)

Director                               Joachim Herz

Revival Director             Sarah Crisp

Designer                              Reinhart Zimmermann

Costume Designer         Eleonore Kleiber

Chorus Master                 Stephen Harris

 

Lieutenant Benjamin Franklin Pinkerton           Jonathan Burton

Goro marriage broker                                                 Simon Crosby Buttle

Suzuki a servant                                                             Rebecca Afonwy-Jones

Sharpless the American consul                                David Kempster

Cio-Cio-San (Madam Butterfly)                             Karah Son

A Welsh National Opera production, sung in Italian

……………………..

Event:                   Le Vin Herbe, Frank Martin

Seen:                    Feb 17, 2017

Running:              Thursday, February 16, 2017 – Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Conductor                                           James Southall
Director                                               Polly Graham
Designer                                              April Dalton
Lighting Designer                            Tim Mitchell
Storytellers                                        Full Company
Iseult’s mother                                 Catherine Wyn-Rogers
Iseult the Fair                                    Caitlin Hulcup
Brangien, companion                    Rosie Hay
Mark King of Cornwall                   Howard Kirk
Tristan his nephew                         Tom Randle
Duke Hoël a nobleman                 Stephen Wells
Kaherdin his son                              Gareth Dafydd Morris
Iseult of the White Hands           Sian Meinir
Solo narrators                                   Anitra Blaxhall, Rosie Hay, Sarah Pope, Joe Roche, Howard Kirk, Stephen Wells, Catherine Wyn-Rogers

A Welsh National Opera production, sung in English

 

 

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