Wagner: Tristan und Isolde

Tristan und Isolde is a three act music drama written between 1857 and 1859, with words and music by Richard Wagner. The composer's libretto in German is based largely on Gottfried von Strassburg's romance, but also inspired by Arthur Schopenhauer's philosophy and the composer's affair with Mathilde Wesendonck.

Hans von Bülow conducted the first performance in Munich on 10 June 1865. This work (and its tonality) was to be hugely influential on later composers. It begins with the famous 'Tristan chord', full of longing, and unlike anything which had come before.

Irish princess Isolde had healed the wounded and disguised knight from Brittany, Tristan. On realising that Tristan was the murderer of her fiance, Morold, she had attempted to stab him with his own sword in revenge, but when he had looked into her eyes, she had been unable to kill him.

The drama begins with Isolde and her maid Brangäne on Tristan's ship, bound for Cornwall, where Tristan has promised Isolde as King Marke's new bride. The furious Isolde challenges Tristan to drink a potion to atone for his wrongdoings. She orders Brangäne to serve a death potion, which Tristan and Isolde both drink, but Brangäne has disobeyed the order, and Tristan and Isolde both unknowingly drink a love potion, falling helplessly in love with one another.

On arrival in Cornwall, Tristan and Isolde begin a secret nocturnal love life, but Tristan's friend Melot betrays him, and summons King Marke to discover the treachery. Melot stabs and wounds Tristan, and Tristan's friend Kurwenal takes Tristan home to Brittany to recover. Isolde arrives in Brittany, but Tristan dies in her arms. Meanwhile Brangäne has told King Marke about the switched potion, and with Melot and armed guards, they sail to Brittany so that King Marke can forgive the lovers. Kurwenal, misunderstanding the reason for their visit, begins to fight Melot, and they are both killed. Isolde sings the famous Liebestod, dying alongside Tristan.


A selection of articles about Wagner: Tristan und Isolde

Classical music news. Mahler and Wagner in Geelong and Melbourne - The Australian Youth Orchestra's July 2024 concerts in Victoria also feature the first performances of the new work 'Overt' by Iain Grandage

CD Spotlight. Overwhelming Performances - Previously unreleased recordings by Jessye Norman, heard by Gerald Fenech. 'Unmissable for all opera buffs.'

CD Spotlight. Bruckner the Trumpet - Gerald Fenech listens to Bruckner's Symphony No 3, transposed for organ. '... Hansjörg Albrecht's renditions of these spectacular transcriptions by Erwin Horn are absolutely flawless.'

CD Spotlight. A Spirit of Newfound Confidence - Gerald Fenech listens to the last instalment of Andris Nelsons' Bruckner cycle for Deutsche Gramophon. 'Nelsons goes straight to the heart of this quite divinely inspired music with confidence and conviction ...'

Ensemble. Opium and Eros - Richard Wagner's 'Tristan und Isolde' in Bologna pleases Giuseppe Pennisi

Ensemble. Glorious New Directions - Roderic Dunnett looks ahead to 2018 and celebrates more of the best English provincial opera from 2017, at Garsington, Longborough and Winslow Hall

Ensemble. Abstract and Symbolic - 'Tristan und Isolde' at Teatro dell'Opera di Roma enthralls Giuseppe Pennisi

Ensemble. Thought Provoking - Maria Nockin visits the cinema for Mariusz Trelinski's updated staging of Wagner's 'Tristan und Isolde' in HD from New York Metropolitan Opera

CD Spotlight. Organ transcriptions - Vocal music by Wagner and Elgar, heard by Geoff Pearce. 'Sarah Rose Taylor's voice is warm and creamy.'

Ensemble. Metaphysical Realm - Wagner's 'Tristan und Isolde' impresses Giuseppe Pennisi

DVD Spotlight. Chamber Opera - Works by Sciarrino and Messiaen, reviewed by Giuseppe Pennisi. '... quite eclectic ...'

Ensemble. An Important Milestone - Robert Hugill was at Grange Park Opera's 'Tristan and Isolde'

CD Spotlight. Murder Accomplished - Rutland Boughton's 'The Queen of Cornwall' impresses Robert Anderson. '... a brave attempt ...'

A Rich Resource - Teresa Verde explains how Theodore Deacon makes opera come alive

Ensemble. Firmly in Period - Grange Park Opera's 'Madama Butterfly', reviewed by Robert Hugill

Linear Clarity - Julian Jacobson's Wigmore Hall recital impresses Malcolm Miller

Ensemble. Young Purity - A Covent Garden 'Salome' revival, reviewed by Robert Hugill

CD Spotlight. Great Abilities - Piano trios by Donald Tovey, heard by Robert Anderson. '... diatonic convictions ...'

Ensemble. Truly Memorable - A concert of arias at Arizona Opera impresses Maria Nockin

CD Spotlight. Joyously Guiltfree - Haydn's 'Creation', heard by Robert Anderson. 'Haydn is on top form throughout ...'

CD Spotlight. Fifty Years - Celebrating Lyrita's recordings of British music, by George Balcombe. '... a meticulous reproduction of orchestral sound ...'

Ensemble. A Particular Pleasure - Christine Brewer sings Wagner, enjoyed by Robert Hugill

CD Spotlight. Without Parallel - Haydn's late piano trios delight Robert Anderson. '... stylish and impeccable.'

CD Spotlight. Deft and Brilliant - Sibelius orchestral music, recommended by Robert Anderson. '... in the safest of hands.'

Ensemble. Authority and Charisma - Wagner's 'Siegfried', reviewed by Maria Nockin

CD Spotlight. Impeccable Technique - Beethoven's middle string quartets, heard by Robert Anderson. 'The outer movements induce some grinding of teeth.'

Ensemble. A Gala Atmosphere - Maria Nockin reports from Los Angeles Opera's opening night 'L'Elisir d'amore'

CD Spotlight. Chameleon Virtues - Barenboim conducts Gershwin, Bernstein, Ravel and Wagner, reviewed by Robert Anderson. '... the oddest assortment of music.'

Highly Articulate - American dramatic soprano Christine Brewer talks to Robert Hugill

CD Spotlight. A Purposeful Vigour - Symphonies by Albéric Magnard impress Patric Standford. '... a notable symphonic architect.'

Ensemble. A Passionate Attraction - The Cleveland Orchestra in Miami, reviewed by Lawrence Budmen

DVD Spotlight. Love Problems - Donizetti's 'l'Elisir d'amore', reviewed by Robert Anderson. '... beguiling candour.'

Ensemble. Quirky Humour - Uri Caine meets Sinfonia Viva, and Mike Wheeler listens

CD Spotlight. Stylish and Pointed - Stokowski conducts Bizet and Debussy, enjoyed by Robert Anderson. '... a rhythmic élan and masterly sense of line ...'

Ensemble. Propulsive Energy - Sinfonia Viva at the Buxton Festival, reviewed by Mike Wheeler

Ensemble. Radiant Loveliness - 'Tristan and Isolde' at Los Angeles Opera, reviewed by Maria Nockin

The Wandering Traveller - Kelly Ferjutz delves further into Richard Wagner and the forthcoming symposium in Ohio

Ensemble. Fiery Performance - The Hallé Orchestra plays Elgar and Wagner, reviewed by Mike Wheeler

Ensemble. A Chinese Wunderkind - Nine-year-old Niu Niu's Wigmore Hall début, admired by Malcolm Troup

The Bayreuth Experience - Souvenirs of a festival in transition, by Malcolm Miller

DVD Spotlight. Mysterious nirvana - Wagner's 'Tristan und Isolde', reviewed by Robert Anderson. '... the climaxes are prepared with meticulous cunning.'

CD Spotlight. Emotional drama - Tristan und Isolde, appreciated by Maria Nockin. '... you feel you are sitting in the tenth row center ...'

Ensemble. Molten silver - 'Tristan and Isolde' in Puerto Rico, appreciated by Maria Nockin

Beyond Brussels - Roderic Dunnett concludes his visit to de Vlaamse Opera