Wagner wanted to convey the motifs of longing, yearning, the gaze, Tristan, Tristan’s suffering, grief, sorrow, love potion, desire, magic, anguish of Tristan, death potion, Tristan and Isolde.
As the music starts and the story unfolds you will find that it is all about men and the trophies they collect.
Tristan and Isolde
A short transcript of the opera:
A young sailor’s voice is heard, singing about an Irish girl he has left ashore. Isolde hears the words and feels insulted, thinking that the sailor is mocking her. She is being conveyed from Ireland to marry the King of Cornwall on the ship of Tristan, the king’s nephew. She begins to rage and her maid Brangaene tries to comfort her without success. When Isolde cries out for fresh air Brangaene opens the curtains enclosing her pavilion. Tristan can be seen deep in thought, looking out to sea. Watching him, Isolde mutters the words, “Chosen for me and lost to me.” She instructs her maid to summon Tristan to her.
Brangaene attempts to do as her mistress wishes but is courteously rebuffed by Tristan. He will not go before Isolde. He is merely conducting her to Cornwall to become the bride of his uncle. His companion, Kurwenal interjects with information that makes clear that Tristan and Isolde have had previous dealings. Kurwenal tells the crew the story of Tristan’s combat with Lord Morold of Ireland over the issue of tribute between Cornwall and Ireland. Morold was Isolde’s intended husband. Tristan killed him and sent Morold’s head back to Ireland, to Isolde, in place of the tribute he had demanded in Ireland’s name.
Brangaene returns to informs her of Tristan’s words. Isolde, who has heard Kurwenal, bitterly states that she has now become the tribute sent from Ireland to Cornwall. With a furious rush upward in the orchestra, Isolde begins a long monologue, giving more information about the past and why her state of mind is so turbulent. This monologue is occasionally presented in the concert hall entitled, “Isolde’s Narration to Brangaene,” or, “Isolde’s Narrative and Curse.” The narration begins using a fragment of a motif from the Prelude. Isolde relates how a small boat carrying a very sick man called Tantris drifted onto the Irish coast seeking the healing arts of the Princess Isolde. After healing the man she realized that he was the one who had killed Morold and his name was not Tantris, but Tristan! She wanted to kill him, to avenge Morold’s death, but when she held the sword over him she could not strike. He had looked into her eyes and it stayed her hand. She nursed him, she protected him, and now how does he repay her? He takes her from Ireland as a token, as a price to be paid to Cornwall, as a wife to his uncle, the old king! Her narration becomes more frenzied as she relates the story, the music reflecting a motif called “Isolde’s anger.” The narration culminates with Isolde’s wild curse on Tristan and a call for vengeance and death - death for them both!
Singer: Birgit Nilson, Swedish soprano