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The Story

Tristan and Isolde have fallen in love – but Tristan has promised that Isolde will marry his uncle, King Marke. Isolde offers Tristan a deathly potion. Rather than bring death, it binds them still closer together.

After her marriage to Marke, Isolde continues to meet Tristan in secret. One night they are betrayed, and Tristan allows himself to be wounded. King Marke permits the lovers to be reunited, but too late. Tristan dies on Isolde’s arrival and Isolde withdraws from the world.

Background

Richard Wagner described Tristan und Isolde as ‘the most audacious and original work of my life’. The opera is a landmark in Western music. Wagner’s musical innovations, daring use of harmony and depiction of extreme emotions have influenced generations of artists. The opera draws on the Celtic legend of Tristan and Iseult, and explores the theme of eternal love through sublime music.

The divide between the real and the metaphysical worlds is powerfully conveyed in Christof Loy’s contemporary production. King Marke’s court is depicted as an elegant dinner party, divided from the world of Tristan and Isolde’s transcendent love by a curtain. As the opera progresses, the characters move between the sphere of private emotions at the front of the stage and the artificial ‘public world’ at the back. Loy’s subtle staging draws attention to the beauty of Wagner’s score, highlights of which include the Act I Prelude, the lovers’ ecstatic duet in Act II and Isolde’s Act III aria ‘Mild und leise’, in which she bids farewell to the world.

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On Wikipedia

Tristan und Isolde (Tristan and Isolde, or Tristan and Isolda, or Tristran and Ysolt) is an opera, or music drama, in three acts by Richard Wagner to a German libretto by the composer, based largely on the romance by Gottfried von Straßburg. It was composed between 1857 and 1859 and premiered in Munich on 10 June 1865 with Hans von Bülow conducting. Wagner referred to the work not as an opera, but called it "eine Handlung" (literally a drama. a plot or an action), which was the equivalent of the term used by the Spanish playwright Calderón for his dramas.Wagner's composition of Tristan und Isolde was inspired by the philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer (particularly The World as Will and Representation) and his affair with Mathilde Wesendonck. Widely acknowledged as one of the peaks of the operatic repertoire, Tristan was notable for Wagner's unprecedented use of chromaticism, tonality, orchestral colour and harmonic suspension.The opera was inexorably influential among Western classical composers and provided direct inspiration to composers such as Gustav Mahler, Richard Strauss, Karol Szymanowski, Alban Berg, Arnold Schönberg and Benjamin Britten. Other composers like Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel and Igor Stravinsky formulated their styles in contrast to Wagner's musical legacy. Many see Tristan as the beginning of the move away from common practice harmony and tonality and consider that it lays the groundwork for the direction of classical music in the 20th century. Both Wagner's libretto style and music were also profoundly influential on the Symbolist poets of the late 19th Century and early 20th Century.

Abstract taken from the Wikipedia article Tristan und Isolde, available under a Creative Commons license.