Tristan and Isolde

Richard Wagner
Music drama in three acts (Handlung in drei Aufzügen)
Launch: June 10, 1865 at Cuvilliés-Theater in Munich

Broadcast Schedule

Broadcast: Thessaloniki, April 4, 2013
Duration: 5 hours

17:00 Act 1
18:26 Intermission- 15 min.
18:41 Act 2
20:02 Intermission- 15 min.
20:17 Act 3
21:44 End of Broadcast

*Academic course starts 30′ prior to broadcast


Tristan and Isolde from the immeasurable greatness of the score till its significance in the evolution of the music, is one of the most important operas of its generation. The libretto, work -as usual- of the composer R. Wagner, has as starting point a medieval poem of Gottfried von Strassburg (circa 1210) based on a Celtic legend that narrates the tragic love of Tristan and Isolde. The composer’s relationship with Mathilde Wesendonck (1857-1859) and the work of Arthur Schopenhauer “The World as Will and as Representation” traditionally considered as a critical circumstances in the process of his creating.

The greatness of this story shows that love is so special and unique, that no rule may limit, either forced law or other moral senses. It is a love and a desire so intense that cannot be stopped, despite the painful awareness of consequences. And this love is the only goal of the music of Wagner. Therefore, the dramatic effect is minimized and the basic and most important scene is presented through music. The opera focuses all its attention to the emotions of the characters. The extraordinary music of Wagner turns into real and universal the expression of love.

Ιntroductory speech about the play 

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Source: Opera oberta

Text editing/Translation: Working group



Source: Opera oberta

The creation of the play

October 1854

First opera plan influenced by Schopenhauer “The world as Will and Representation”.

December 1855

The general conception of the drama becomes more concrete beginning from the third act.

December 19, 1856

Wagner composes the first music themes.

April 28, 1857

Wagner moves in Vezentonks’ villa on the outskirts of Zurich.

August 9, 1857

Completes the orchestration of the second act of Zigkfrint. Postpones the creation of Tristan.

August 20, 1857

Wagner begins to write the libretto.

September 18, 1857

Completes the poetic text.

October 1, 1857

Music sketches for the first act.

November 5, 1857

Deals with the orchestration of the first act.

December 31, 1857

Completes designing the compositional plan of the first act.

January 13, 1858

Completes the orchestration of the first act.

April 3, 1858

Wagner completes the score of the first act.

4 May – 1 July 1858

Designs the compositional plan of the second act.

July 5, 1858

Configures the orchestral treatment of the second act.

August 17, 1858

Wagner leaves Zurich for Venice.

October 15, 1858

The composer continues with the orchestration of the second act at Joustiniani Palazzo in Venice.

March 9, 1859

Completes the orchestration of the second act.

March 18, 1859

The composer completes the second act of the opera.

March 28, 1859

Wagner settles in Lucerne.

April 9 – 16 July 1859

Wagner completes the score of the third act.

August 14, 1861

Wagner goes to Vienna in order to have its premiere there. After seventy rehersals and continuous postponements the premiere is canceled.

10 June 1856

Finally the premiere of Tristan and Isolde takes place in the Munich opera conducted by Hans von Bylof.


Evi Nika-Samson, Richard Wagner – Tristan and Isolde,

OMMA (Athens Concert Hall), 1995-1996, p. 73

Translation: Working group

A summary of the play

First act

Isolde is with her faithful servant Brangkaine in a cabin on a ship that goes to Cornwall. The Irish princess thinks the song of a young sailor refers to her and feels insulted. Opens with anger the curtains of the cabin and seeing it is Tristan, asks him to appear immediately before her. He refuses and Kourvenal shouts that Tristan does not accept orders. With pain Isolde tells Brangkaineher her story:Tristan had killed Morolnt, her fiancé in a duel, where he seriously injured himself too. Tristan became a hero, and Isolde got sent Morolnt head. Tristan knowing that she could heal him, got into a boat and appeared before Isolde as Tantris. When he felt better and was about to depart, Isolde discovered his true identity and decided to kill him. But when she raised the sword, he looked at her eyes and Isolde fell madly in love with him. When Tristan returned to his kingdom, spoke about Isolde to his uncle, King Mark, whose wife had died without leaving him children, and he asked of Tristan to bring her there in order to marry him. Isolde meanwhile felt that Tristan desdained her love and so she wants to revenge him. When Kourvenal alerts women to prepare for landing, she refuses to get off the boat, if not brought before Tristan. Then orders Brangkaine to bring wine and drop a deadly poison inside. Tristan enters the cabin .Isolde tells him that he must pay for the death of Morolnt but does not want to kill him with his sword. Tristan drinks from the cup that she gives him to reconcile, but she drinks the rest. Now they are both waiting to die but, as they look into each others eyes, they realize that they are passionately in love. Brangkaine instead of poison, dropped a love potion! Soon they arrive at their destination, where they are greeted by Mark King and his retinue.

Second Act

It is evening. King Mark has gone hunting with his sequence.

Isolde, located in the garden of the royal castle in front of her room, orders Brangkaine to put out the torch which burns on the gate of the garden.This was the signal for Tristan. Brangkaine hesitates and warns Isolde, telling her to watch Melot, who might be watching and have already given them away to the king. Isolde replies that Melot is Tristan’s best friend and decides to extinguish the torch herself. Brangkaine, who suspects that the hunt was organized to trap the lovers, climbs up the battlements. Tristan appears, falling into the arms of Isolde. The two lovers speak of their love, of the day that separates them and the night that unites them, exchanging vows of eternal loyalty. As it begins to dawn, Kourvenal rushes into the garden, revealing to the couple that Melot betrayed them and that the “hunters” are on their way. Soon comes Melot, the courtiers and the king, who upon seeing the pair of lovers, watches on one hand his happiness for the upcoming marriage gone, and on the other the forever lost of the most faithful of his friends , his favorite nephew, who had once persuaded him with threats to marry Isolde. Tristan cannot nor wants to give any explanation and turns to Isolde asking of her to follow him to the place where the sun never shines. She accepts. Melot, who betrayed them of jealousy as he had also fallen in love with Isolde, urges the king not tolerate this insult, and draws his sword. Tristan falls wounded by the sword of his friend.

Third Act

Tristan is in the garden of the castle in Kareol. He who brought him this far, mortally wounded, was his faithful Kourvenal, who also sent a message to Isolde for her to come, because only she could heal him. A shepherd watches over to her arrival. But his song is sad meaning that nothing is yet visible on the horizon. Tristan is in delirium. Tries to tie the threads of dreams, thoughts and fantasies, continuously shouting the name of Isolde. His words are dark and Sibyl. When Kourvenal tells him that he sent men to bring Isolde, Tristan orders him to run to the observatory to see if the boat is on his way. But the shepherd’s song is still sad.

Tristan curses the elixir for bringing him so many calamities. Suddenly the shepherd starts playing a cheerful purpose. Tristan sends Kourvenal to the beach to bring Isolde. He gets up and tries to find power to welcome her. But this last effort finishes him off. Once he hugs his beloved, falls dead. The shepherd announces the arrival of another ship. Kourvenal recognizes King Mark and Melot, who arrive accompanied by armed men. Orders to seal the gates of the castle. Not paying attention to Brangkaine Kourvenal rushes at Melot and kills him. While Melot dies speaks the name of Tristan. The swords of the king’s people throw Kourvenal dead. But the king has come to signify friendship with Tristan. When he learned from Brangkaine that the elixir was to blame for everything, he wanted to apologize and leave Isolde for the sake of his friend. Isolde, who had fainted, opens her eyes, sees Tristan, and thinking he is alive, sings a love song that ends with the words “supreme pleasure. Falls on the body of her beloved and dies.


Evi Nika-Samson, Richard Wagner – Tristan and Isolde,

OMMA (Athens Concert  Hall), 1995-1996, p. 73

Translation: Working group

Selected writings

Richard Wagner about German Opera Translation by William Ashton Ellis in “Posthumous”, vol. xii, 1899, p. 55-58

Richard Wagner about Music Drama Translation by William Ashton Ellis in “Actors and Singers”, vol. ix, 1896, p. 299-304

Wagner’s correspondence about the opera  Evi Nika-Samson (ed.), Richard Wagner – Tristan and Isolde, OMMA (Athens Concert Hall), 1995-1996, p. 68   (Translation by Working group)


“Tristan and Isolde [Wagner] is much more than a love story […]. Its extraordinary design catches the public in a slow and sure: love is not merely a compelling force in life, but an irresistible reality than our spiritual universe. The essential action of the opera is that lovers are increasingly drawn harder to perceive this reality and to submit to it. In their vision of reality, are freed from all secondary issues of existence such as, secondary feelings, convention, personality, reason and even life itself”

Joseph Kerman

“The Wagnerian orchestra takes full control of the progression of passion: to speak well, registered as clinical chart”

Mario Bortolotti

“Lovers of Cornwall were scared and upset so much as fascinated. The center of the erotic imagination is that of the Middle Ages, [..] but they are objects of scandal for the medieval image of love”

Michel Zink

“Love is a path that can lead to salvation, awareness of self, denial of will”

Richard Wagner

“My greatest masterpiece in the art of the finest for the progressive transition is certainly the great scene in the second act of Tristan and Isolde. The beginning of this scene provides the overflowing vehement passion in their life [..], the end, however, the most fervent desire of death and intimate”

Richard Wagner

“Is it possible to imagine a man who is able to listen to the third act of Tristan and Isolde without the help of words, purely as an immense symphonic movement, without exhaling the last breath spasmodically under the strain of all the wings of soul?”

Friedrich Nietzsch

“World, power, glory, honor, chivalry, loyalty, friendship, all poles become insubstantial as a dream, only one thing is still alive: the yearning, insatiable desire, desire, thirst and hunger ever arise again, a single redemption: Death, death, disappearance, not wake up!”

Richard Wagner

“Isolde, this primitive woman [..] who was neither moderate nor civilized, this woman still pulls wild Tristan and with hard ways of dispossession of the self and the discovery of a wonderful kingdom as a glass bubble that crosses the sun’s rays incessantly”

Michel Cazenave

“On a metaphorical figure of Isolde establishes a kind of connection between the notions of feminine beauty and dangerous allure of music and art, philosophy and aesthetics that distinguish female as a transformative force”

Ann Marie Rasmussen

Source: Opera oberta

 Translation: Working group

The cast

Music Director: Bertrand de Billy

Stage Director: Alfred Kichner

Scenery: Annette Murschetz

Costumes: Ann Poppel

Lighting:  Jean Kalman

Production: De Nederlandse Opera (Amsterdam)


Tristan……………..John Treleaven

König Marke………….Eric Halfvarson

Isolde………………….Deborah Polaski

Kurwenald……………Falk Struckmann

Melot…………………..Wolfgang Rauch

Brangäne………………Lioba Braun

Ein Hirte…………….Francisco Vas

Ein Steuermann………Michael Vier

Source: Opera oberta


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