Tristan und Isolde - Synopsis

Tristan und Isolde: Waltraud Meier, Kwangchul Youn, Robert Dean Smith Tristan und Isolde: Petra Lang, Waltraud Meier Tristan und Isolde: Waltraud Meier, Robert Dean Smith

Tristan und Isolde

Richard Wagner


The background to the story

Tristan, the nephew and vassal of King Marke of Cornwall, killed a knight, Morold, the fiancé of the Irish king's daughter, Isolde, in battle and sent the head of the dead man to Isolde. Tristan was also wounded in the battle by a sword that had been dipped in poison by Isolde herself. He travelled to Ireland under the name of Tantris in order to be nursed back to health by Isolde. Isolde realised his true identity, as a splinter of metal which was lodged in Morold's head exactly fitted a small gap in Tristan's sword. She decided to be revenged on Tristan for Morold's death, but the moment she looked into Tristan's eyes her hate turned into love. Fully restored to health, Tristan travelled back to Cornwall, only to return a short while later to court Isolde in the name of his uncle, King Marke. Together Tristan and Isolde set sail for Cornwall.


Act One

Isolde feels that Tristan has betrayed her and orders her woman, Brangaene, to persuade Tristan to come to her so they can talk things out. He is very reluctant to do so. His servant, Kurwenal, declares that a hero can never be subservient to the maid whom he has courted in his uncle's name and he sings a satirical song about Morold's death. Isolde tells Brangaene about her first meeting with Tristan. Brangaene seeks to comfort her mistress and reminds her of the magic potions Isolde's mother gave her to take with her on the journey to Cornwall. Isolde is desperate at the thought of being so close to the man she loves while being forced to live as the wife of another. So she plans to die with Tristan. When the latter appears, Isolde demands that he should drink the poison with her as a penance for killing Morold. Assuming that they are both now about to die, Tristan and Isolde declare their love for each other. But the potion which Brangaene has given them was not the poison. Accompanied by cheering from the people, Tristan and Isolde reach Cornwall.


Act Two

King Marke has gone hunting at night with his retinue. Isolde is waiting in the garden for Tristan. Brangaene warns Isolde about Melot, Marke's liegeman, because she is convinced that he plans to betray the lovers to his master. Isolde does not heed her. Impatiently she extinguishes the torch at the door, that signal that she and Tristan have agreed on. Tristan and Isolde are delighted to be together without the danger of being disturbed and decide to quit this world, which does not allow them to love each other, and live only for their love. At dawn King Marke, who has been alerted by Melot, appears with his retinue. Disappointed at Tristan's betrayal of his trust and his friendship, he sees the existence of all moral values called in question. At this moment, Tristan's feeling of guilt and remorse is stronger than his love for Isolde; he agrees to fight a duel with Melot and runs into the latter's sword.


Act Three

Kurwenal has taken Tristan to his home, Kareol in Brittany. As Tristan's wound refuses to heal, Kurwenal has sent for Isolde to come and nurse his master back to health. A shepherd is keeping a look-out for her ship. He is to announce the arrival of the vessel by singing a merry song. Tristan's thoughts are dwelling on his origins and his childhood, which he had to spend without the love and support of his parents. His father died after he had been conceived, his mother died after he was born. When Isolde finally arrives, she is too late; Tristan has departed his earthly life in the moment of her arrival. Brangaene has also persuaded Marke to travel to Kareol so that he can offer the lovers his forgiveness. When the king and his retinue arrive, Kurwenal tries to stop them from seeing Tristan and Isolde. In the course of the ensuing struggle, Kurwenal and Melot kill each other. Isolde follows Tristan into another world.

Translation: Susan Bollinger
© Bayerische Staatsoper