Here is a passage from a book I am now perusing, Death devoted Heart:
Sex and the Sacred in Wagner's Tristan and Isolde
, by Roger Scruton.
"The music that we now know as the Liebestod was first described by
Wagner, when arranging it as the second half of the well-known orchestral
epitome, as Isolde's "Verklärung"-transfiguration. The stage direction
tells us that "Isolde sinkt, wie verklärt, . . . auf Tristans Leiche." And in a
program note Wagner elucidated the music thus:
'what Fate divided in life now springs into transfigured life in death:
the gates of union are thrown open. Over Tristan's body the dying
Isolde receives the blessed fulfillment of ardent longing, eternal
union in measureless space, without barriers, without fetters, inseparable.'
The death of Isolde is also a transfiguration and a renewal, and the entire
work of the music is to imprint this fact upon our innermost emo-
tions. Its success is sufficient dramatic proof that love can be fulfilled in
death, when death is chosen, and that this fulfillment is a genuine redemption."
If the composer has anything to say about the meaning of his work, this should settle the matter.
It has occurred to me, too, that it was Liszt who gave the title "Love-death" to Isolde's dying song - which Wagner had called "Transfiguration," giving the name "Love-death" to the opera's prelude - when he wrote his piano transcription of it. That transcription was published in 1867, not long after Tristan's
premiere. Liszt and Wagner were, of course, exceedingly close. I've been unable to find any comment by Wagner on this change of title, but we can be sure that he did comment on it, and since the change was allowed to stand, he obviously did not forbid it. Additionally, the practice of having Isolde remain alive at the conclusion of the opera probably dates back only to the mid-twentieth century; her death was traditionally assumed to be the correct conclusion of the story and, judging from the above facts, that assumption surely dates back all the way to Tristan's
In light of all this - plus all the considerations I've raised in previous posts - I think it's abundantly clear that Wagner intended for Isolde to die, and that death in this opera does in fact represent the "realm of Night" to which Tristan and Isolde have dedicated themselves and which they finally attain. Your view is an interesting one, but in addition to being incoherent and insupportable on evidential grounds it clearly departs from Wagner's own.
That tells me that the fundamental problem of interpreting this work is to grasp the full symbolic meaning of death as the fulfillment of love.
P.S. It would seem that Wagner shares with me the "soap opera logic of Italian opera."