Erin Roche is a graduate of Columbia College Chicago with a degree in Vocal Performance, a strong theater background, and an even stronger desire to showcase the best that Chicago talent has to offer.
Lani Stait (Isolde) and ensemble. Photo by Liz Lauren photo.
The Music Box with its vintage charm and sparkly stars on the ceiling is the perfect setting for the fantastical site-specific opera THE LOVE POTION by the Chicago Opera Theater (COT). Directed and designed by Artistic Director Andreas Mitisek, THE LOVE POTION (Le Vin Herbe) brings a wrenching tale to an intimate setting, combining COT’s reputation for producing provocative and fresh opera with a space also known for showcasing novel and unexpected work. THE LOVE POTION proves, yet again, that COT knows how to marvel their audience with interpretations that burst with vision and whimsy.
The Celtic myth of Tristan and Isolde is famed, initially made popular during the twelfth century through medieval French poetry, and this rendition is based on the three chapters of the novel ROMAN DE TRISTAN ET ISEULT by author Joseph Bédier. With the English translation by Hugh MacDonald and the haunting score composed by Frank Martin, this story of the treacherous magic that is their love begins on an ocean, the ocean playing a larger metaphor for love itself– vast, dangerous, beautiful, erratic. Two lovers fall in love through a magical accident but wrestle with their fate until the end. The layers that this piece delves into–mercy, revenge, unrelenting guilt, sacrifice–makes it a timeless and heartsick love story.
Imaginative and minimalistic, the design of this piece puts the storytelling at the forefront by using metaphor and a thoughtful combination of lighting and movie screen projection. Large sticks act as set pieces as well as props, at various times creating a ship and oars or an entire forest. Subtle backgrounds play on the screen: the ocean, a castle, a view from the forest floor gazing up at the stars. This projection of stars in particular works so well with the space, the stars from the screen echoing with the glistening stars that adorn the ceiling of the Music Box.
Conductor Emanuele Andrizzi led the accompanying chamber orchestra of strings and piano that invoked the foreboding score throughout the space while the ensemble acted a Greek chorus of sorts with members stepping out donned in scarves or crowns to portray principal robes. COT Young Artist Brittany Loewen is memorable as Branghien. Her mesa de voce during the potion revelation moment stuck with me through both acts. Loewen’s entire performance was controlled and powerful. Lani Stait as Isolde is a lilting soprano with a wistful and quick vibrato. Though not as powerful in her higher range, the light nature of her tone made her evocations of the tortured maiden seem like she was floating on the ocean of her own misery. King Marc, portrayed by Nicholas Davis, was commanding and emotive, perhaps the best acted of the group. Sonorous and enchanting Bernard Holcomb played Tristan with conviction and left me heartbroken at the end.
The epilogue shrewdly sums up, “So perhaps from this they’ll find relief and comfort, from the world’s inconstancy, and the world’s injustice, from mistrust and fraud, and all distress, and from all pain of love.” But for whom is the epilogue meant? The lovers? The audience? Only you can decide at the last performance of THE LOVE POTION on October 9th. I, for one, am fiercely looking forward to the remainder of the season with such delights on the bill as a world premiere of Philip Glass’ THE PERFECT AMERICAN, a revelation of the life and time of Walt Disney, a rendition of A Midsummer NIght’s Dream with THE FAIRY QUEEN, and a science-fiction opera and co-world premiere with sister company Long Beach Opera THE INVENTION OF MOREL. As Isolt of the White Hands utters, “Nevermore will you enjoy love free from pain,” in THE LOVE POTION, I feel this 2016/2017 season hints at exposing more tales of the frightening and supernatural side of love. As the driving force behind the artistic vision for both Chicago Opera Theater and Long Beach Opera and one of the most influential forces in the world of opera, Andreas Mitisek never fails to dream up new and unorthodox wonders that propel this genre forward, and I cannot wait to see the fantasies come to life.
For more information and to purchase tickets visit chicagooperatheater.org/the-season/le-vin-herbe