- Richard Wagner. Handlung in three acts. 1859.
- Libretto by the composer.
- First performance at the Königliches Hof-und Nationaltheater, Munich, on 10th June 1865.
|König Marke (King Mark) ||bass|
|Tristan, his nephew ||tenor|
|Kurwenal, Tristan's retainer ||baritone|
|Isolde, an Irish princess ||soprano|
|Brangäne, her companion ||soprano|
|Melot, a courtier ||tenor|
|A Shepherd ||tenor|
|A Helmsman ||baritone|
|A Sailor ||tenor|
Isolde, with her companion Brangäne, sailing on Tristan's boat to Cornwall, rails at her fate and
vows to encompass Tristan's death, as he takes her from her native country to marry King Mark.
Tristan had killed her betrothed, Morold, and now takes her to Cornwall as tribute, while she,
haunted by Tristan's gaze, had earlier cured him through her inherited magic powers of healing.
Isolde summons Tristan to her, but he demurs. She now tells Brangäne to bring her casket of magic
potions and prepares a poisoned cup for Tristan. Before they land, she calls him to her, and they both
drink, but Brangäne has substituted for the death potion a love potion, which has immediate effect.
It is now a summer night and Isolde waits for Tristan, against whom the courtier Melot has been
plotting. It is only in the night that Tristan and Isolde can realise their love, deluded by the light of
day. As the lovers lie together, Brangäne, watching from the tower, cries out her warning, as night
passes, but they are unwilling to part. The royal hunting-party bursts in and Tristan is reproached by
King Mark. He allows Melot to wound him mortally. In the third act Tristan lies dying, cared for by
Kurwenal, who has brought him home to his own castle. Isolde's ship is seen approaching, and soon
she is with him, as he dies in her arms. A second ship appears, bringing Melot and King Mark.
Kurwenal defends his master, killing Melot, and being killed himself in the struggle. King Mark is
horrified, since he had come to unite the lovers, having learnt of the love potion from Brangäne.
Isolde, who has swooned, wakes, only to die, as she gazes at the body of her dead lover.
The prelude to Tristan und Isolde (Tristan and Isolde) has been regarded by analysts as a cogent
element in the development of later modes of harmony, offering, as it does, harmonic ambiguities
that have been seen as leading to atonality. It interweaves a series of motifs of importance in the
drama, motifs of longing, the gaze, the love potion and the death potion, love's yearning, Tristan
and Tristan and Isolde. The prelude to the second act contrasts motifs associated with day and those
associated with night and its joys, while the third act is introduced by motifs associated with despair,
languid suffering and solitude. At the climax of the drama is the Liebestod, Isolde's love-death,
Mild und leise wie er lächelt (Fair and gently he is smiling), as she herself dies. The music is also
known in an orchestral version, with a vocal arrangement, a prelude and Liebestod, devised by
Humperdinck. The second act, with its ecstatic night of love, brings music of great dramatic power
Wagner's opera was written during the period he spent in Switzerland, after his escape from
Dresden in 1849, and coincided with his relationship with Mathilde Wesendonck, the wife of a
benefactor who continued his support of Wagner, as others were to do in similar circumstances. It
would be difficult to exaggerate the marked technical and dramatic effect Tristan und Isolde had on
the later course of music and of other arts.