Madam Butterfly & Le Vin Herbe
Love’s Poisoned Chalice
Welsh National Opera at Wales Millenium Centre
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
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
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