The Legend Behind the Opera | Welsh National Opera

The Legend Behind the Opera

14 February 2017

If you don’t know the opera Le Vin herbé, you may know the story that inspired it

Our Spring season is entitled Love’s Poisoned Chalice, and while the Puccini double bill of La bohème and Madam Butterfly both show the heartbreaking side of romance, the story of Le Vin herbé probably matches the theme most literally.

The saga of Tristan and Iseult is famously associated with the 19th century Wagner opera, however it is actually one of the oldest stories in Western literature dating back to at least the 11th century in Celtic mythology. The story is thought likely to have influenced the romance of Lancelot and Guinevere in the Matter of Britain; some scholars also believe Ovid's Pyramus and Thisbe, and the story of Ariadne at Naxos might have contributed to the development of the Tristan legend. A short Tristan narrative exists in six Welsh manuscripts dating from the late 16th to the mid 17th century (with mentions of the characters also occurring in the Mabinogion and Welsh Triads - Drystan, son of Tallwch). The earliest complete source of the Tristan material in English was Sir Tristrem, a romance written around1300. 

From the beginning of the twentieth century a number of films have been made on the subject starting with 1909’s French silent movie Tristan et Yseult and moving right up to date with Tony and Ridley Scott’s Tristan and Isolde in 2006.

Le Vin herbé Director Polly Graham, recently featured as ‘One to watch in 2017’ by The Guardian, wants the story to be at the heart of our production and will use WNO Chorus members to narrate the tale directly to the audience giving it an intensely theatrical feel.  Polly’s most recent work for WNO was Kommilitonen! with WNO Youth Opera, staged at Memo Arts Centre, Barry which was acclaimed by critics and audience alike.

Le Vin herbé has a limited number of performances, beginning at Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff on 16 Feb then continuing as part of our Spring tour. Click here for details.