Home > Tristan und Isolde
First performed June 10, 1865.
Libretto by the composer (in German).
|A Summary of “Tristan und Isolde”
In a Middle Ages legend, in Cornwall, England, an Irish Princess, Isolde, is on board a ship from Ireland to Cornwall, as she marries King Marke who governs Cornwall. She is escorted by Tristan, the King’s loyalist and his nephew.
Isolde has already fallen in love with Tristan. But now he delivers her to the King as though she were a prisoner. She compels him to take poison with her because she detests the idea of marrying King Marke. However, her maid, Brangane, prepares medicine of love instead of poison. When their ship calls at the port, they have already fallen passionately in love with each other.
When King Marke goes out hunting, his wife, Isolde, meets secretly with Tristan. By chance, King Marke appears there. The King laments that his loyalist and wife betray him. Tristan doesn’t apologize for his actions. The King’s other loyalist, Melot, rushes forward, and hacks at Tristan. Tristan drops his sword and he is wounded.
In Tristan’s home castle in Brittany, France, Tristan lies severely wounded, tended by his attendant, Kurwenal. Kurwenal calls Isolde for Tristan. But Tristan has already died when she appears.
King Marke also appears, having found out that Tristan and Isolde took medicine of love.
At that moment, Isolde’s destiny is decided. She chooses kill herself, and join Tristan in the afterlife.
|A Comment on “Tristan und Isolde”
|After Richard Wagner composed another opera, “Lohengrin,” he escaped
to Zurich as a political refugee. A rich merchant, Otto Wesendonck, provided
Wagner with residence. At that time, Wagner and his wife, Minna, were on
bad terms. Madame Wesendonck also is on bad terms with her husband. And,
the relationship between Wagner and Madame Wesendonck became close as a
matter of natural consequence. However, this was an impossible love after
all. The opera “Tristan und Isolde” was composed through Wagner’s personal
suffering in love. So, this opera’s main theme is unfaithfulness. Wagner
said that this opera became the best one of all his operas.
Wagner reconsidered “opera.” He then treated opera as a fusion of arts
combining music, drama, literature, fine art, poetry, and so on. He said,
“I never write an opera anymore.” Wagner goes toward “Musik Drama.”
He used a lot of chromatic scale, and he tried to meld atonality. Wagner
tried to express broken moral in the theme, and tonality in the music.
This opera is long, more than four hours. And the
characters in this opera are not active on the stage. I recommend you listen to
the prelude repeatedly beforehand. This prelude is played at a lot of
orchestral concerts. Many kinds of “Leitmotiv,” the main theme that accompanies
the reappearance of a person or situation, appears in the prelude. You can
learn a lot of phrases. This opera expresses sensual love, which is told best
by Wagner. You will be able to feel sensual harmony in the music.
|Gluck, C. W. (1714-1787)
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