Tristan And Isolda
In three acts by RICHARD WAGNER.
The music to this drama is deemed by connoisseurs the most perfect ever
written by Wagner, but it needs a fine and highly cultivated
understanding of music to take in all its beauty and greatness. There
is little action in it, and very often the orchestra has the principal
part, so that the voice seems little more than an accompaniment, it has
musical measures too, which cannot be digested by an uneducated hearer;
but nevertheless many parts of it will interest every-one.
Isolda's love-song for instance is the noblest hymn, ever sung in
praise of this passion.
The first act represents the deck of a ship, where we find the
two principal persons, Tristan and Isolda together,--Tristan, a Cornish
hero, has gone over to Ireland, to woo the Princess for his old uncle,
King Marke. Isolda however loves Tristan and has loved him from the
time when he was cast sick and dying on the coast of Ireland and was
rescued and nursed by her, though he was her enemy. But Tristan,
having sworn faith to his uncle, never looks at her, and she full of
wrath that he wooes her for another instead of for himself, attempts to
poison herself and him by a potion. But Brangaena, her faithful
attendant secretly changes the poisoned draught for a love-potion, so
that they are inevitably joined in passionate love. Only when the ship
gets ashore, its deck already covered with knights and sailors, who
come to greet their King's bride, does Brangaena confess her fraud, and
Isolda, hearing, that she is to live, faints in her attendant's arms.
In the second act Isolda has been wedded to Marke, but the love-potion
has worked well, and she has secret interviews at night with Tristan,
whose sense of honor is deadened by the fatal draught. Brangaena keeps
watch for the lovers, but King Marke's jealous friend Melot betrays
them, and they are found out by the good old King, who returns earlier
than he had intended from a hunt.
Tristan is profoundly touched by the grief of the King, whose sadness
at losing faith in his most noble warrior is greater than his wrath
against the betrayer of honor. Tristan, unable to defend
himself, turns to Isolda, asking her to follow him into the desert, but
Melot opposes him, and they fight, Tristan falling back deadly wounded
into his faithful servant Kurvenal's arms.
The third act represents Tristan's home in Brittany, whither Kurvenal
has carried his wounded master in order to nurse him. Isolda, so
skilled in the art of healing wounds, has been sent for, but they look
in vain for the ship, which is to bring her.
When at last it comes into sight, Tristan, who awakes from a long
swoon, sends Kurvenal away, to receive his mistress, and as they both
delay their coming, his impatient longing gets the better of him.
Forgetting his wound, he rises from his couch, tearing away the
bandages, and so Isolda is only just in time to catch him in her arms,
where he expires with her name on his lips. While she bewails her
loss, another ship is announced by the shepherd's horn. King Marke
arrives, prepared to pardon all and to unite the lovers. Kurvenal,
seeing Melot advance, mistakes them for foes and running his sword
through Melot's breast, sinks, himself deadly wounded, at his master's
feet. King Marke, to whom Brangaena has confessed her part in the whole
matter, vainly laments his friend Tristan, while Isolda, waking from
her swoon and seeing her lover dead, pours forth rapturous words of
greeting, and, broken-hearted, sinks down dead at his side.
Next: Il Trovatore
Previous: La Traviata