Music ReviewsOperaREVIEWSTom Williams

The Love Potion (Le Vin Herbe)

Composed by Frank Martin.

Libretto by Joseph Bedier.

Translated into English by Hugh MacDonald.

Conductor Emanuel Andrizzi.

Stage Director Andreas Mitisek.

produced by Chicago Opera Theater.

At the Music Theatre, Chicago.

Mellow version of Tristan and Isolde sings nicely and works in English.

The Chicago opera Theater opens its new season by staging the first classical live performance in the Music Box theatre (nest door to the Mercury Theatre on Southport Avenue) While the venue is old  with limited lighting and a make shift thrust stage, its acoustics were surprisingly good making the lyrics easily heard  without being overwhelmed by the  nine person orchestra consisting of a piano and seven strings.


Composed in 1938  and first produced in 1942 in Germany, Frank Martin’s secular oratorio (a piece for voices and instruments) The Love Potion (Le Vin Herbe) was first created as a half hour piece for a dozen voices. It became a full opera later as it was a version of the Tristan and Isolde fable made famous by the Wagner opera, Tristan und Isolde. But this is NOT Wagner rather a 20th Century modern opera, an oratorio really featuring nice 23 part harmonies and a chamber orchestra.

Sung in English (translation by Hugh MacDonald) with a large video depicting the story with a huge English super titles, The Love Potion works well. Featuring music that sounds like film underscoring rich in piano and string sounds, The Love Potion’s  singing makes the story come alive.  The 12 person ensemble (a kind of Greek chorus) sounded terrific and the leads led the way.


From tenor Bernard Holcomb’s Tristan to soprano Lani Stait’s Isolde to baritone Nicholas Davis’ King Mark, these  featured artists carried the opera with their expressively skilled voices. In one of the most understandable opera, The Love Potion delivers a worthy fable with evocative music and fine classical singing. At $50-$75 per ticket, this Chicago Opera Theater delivers a fine professional opera bargain. They try to find obscure operas as Chicago premiers; a worthy undeserved niche. The Love Potion is a nice night at the opera.

Here is a Synopsis of The Love Potion from the program notes:

Part 1
The opera begins with Tristan as he retrieves the reluctant Isolde so that she may marry his uncle, King Mark. Isolde’s mother has brewed a love potion meant for King Mark to fall in love with her daughter. Tristan and Isolde mistakenly drink the potion when their maid confuses it for wine and they fall irrevocably in love.

Part 2
King Mark discovers Tristan and Isolde’s love and declares vengeance. The lovers are able to escape the King and flee to the forest where they are quickly discovered. King Mark spares them from death with the vow that they remain apart and pure.

Part 3
Following orders, the lovers remain apart and Tristan marries Isolde of the White Hands. Wounded during a battle, Tristan asks his friend Kahedin to bring his first love, Isolde, back to him but his wife is unhappy with his desire and tricks the unlucky lovers.


Tom Williams

Date Reviewed: September 30, 2016.

For more info checkout The Love Potion page at

At The Music Box Theater, 3733 N. Southport, Chicago, IL,  call 312-704-8414,, tickets $50- $75, Saturday, October 1 at 3pm and Sunday, October 9 at 3pm, running time is 2 hours, 35 minutes with intermission.