BWW Review: Wolf Trap Opera and Washington Concert Opera Elevate LE VIN HERBE
When you think about Wolf Trap, you probably think of their stunning outdoor Filene Center where their summer performance series takes place. But their indoor venue, The Barns, might just give the Filene Center a run for its money. Wolf Trap Opera and Washington Concert Opera's recent production of Le Vin Herbé shows off the utilitarianism of this space while highlighting a dozen stellar vocalists. The chosen source material might not be the most compelling-but this co-production elevates the work beyond the middling libretto.
Le Vin Herbé (The Love Potion) follows the story of Tristan (Ian Koziara) and Iseut the Fair (Shanon Jennings) in what the chorus describes as "a beautiful tale of love and death" during the story's prologue. While transporting Iseut back to Cornwall to marry his uncle, Tristan is mistakenly served a love potion by a maid aboard their vessel who mistakes the potion for wine. Although Tristan and Iseut are hostile to one another at first, once they taste this love potion they fall madly for one another. Despite marrying King Marc, Iseut is still enamored with Tristan and the two continue their love affair and flee to the woods. Like most operas, the lovers continue to face hardships before meeting their respective dramatic fates.
Each of the singers brings a new depth to the score with which they are working. None elevate the work more than Mr. Koziara and Ms. Jennings who are compelling to both watch and listen to as the doomed lovers. Mr. Koziara struts about the stage like the true heroic figure that Tristan is described as throughout. He does well in keeping up with the stunning performance that Ms. Jennings delivers as Iseut. It helps that she is both a breathtaking singer and radiates her brilliance every moment of the production. Even when the performance is coming to a close and both lovers have collapsed in death, they continue to be highlights of the staging.
With a concert format, there's not much to examine with the performance's design. All of the chorus members and the orchestra are dressed elegantly for the occasion with each member of the team expressing their own sense of style while keeping consistent with their all-black color scheme. Where the production falters, unfortunately, is in lighting the performers reliably during the evening. On numerous occasions, the company would wander out of the light just enough for their faces to no longer be clearly seen. It's a shame that this happened so frequently considering how crucial their expressions are to deepening the audience's appreciation of this work.
Frank Martin's Le Vin Herbé is definitely a pretty work but there's not many levels to the performance beyond this prettiness. In fact, when the endless string of sumptuous ballads hits back-to-back it becomes almost too soothing where it's difficult to distinguish between each of the numbers. Anthony Walker does a great job in providing additional depth to this score thanks to some skillful conducting. At the end of the day, however, there's only so much that he and the stellar 8-piece orchestra can do to add more depth to an otherwise forgettable score.
Wolf Trap Opera and Washington Concert Opera have cerated a fine production that demonstrates the def capabilities of both of these groups. A concert presentation is not going to convert any opera skeptics but it will reveal additional layers to works that aren't staged often. Given the short engagements for these concerts, it's a smart idea to stay alert so another doesn't pass you by.
Le Vin Herbé was co-produced by Wolf Trap Opera and Washington Concert Opera and played a two-day engagement at The Barns on February 9 and 10. For tickets and information about upcoming Wolf Trap Opera performances, click here. For Washington Concert Opera's upcoming offerings, click here.
Sam Abney is a Washington, D.C. based arts professional. A native of Arizona, he has happily made D.C. his new home. Sam is a graduate from George Mason University with a degree in Communication and currently works for Arena Stage as a member of their Development team. He is a life-long lover of theater and is excited about sharing his passion with as many people as possible.
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