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Let's talk Tristan und Isolde.....................

35405 Views 251 Replies 43 Participants Last post by  DavidA
Always controversial.
Why do you like it or hate it?

It's sometimes called the greatest opera ever.

What makes it so compelling?
It really grabs me. Those chords opening Act 3 , sounding and wafting upwards always grip me.

What are it's meanings? What is its power? Is the power of the potion real or just an excuse?

What makes it the iconic work that it is on a musical and psychological level?
Wagner said a truly great performance would drive you mad.
Conductors have died conducting it. Karajan said he needed to come up with another way to conduct it.

Lovers of this opera.............let's talk Tristan.:)
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Trsitan und Isolde is one of but a few operas that I might think of as the single greatest opera ever composed... depending on the day of the week. :lol:

I have four or five recordings including the Pappano, Furtwangler, Kleiber, Barenboim, and the Karajan studio recording. I must check out the live version from the 1950s if it is ever released in a decent form.
It has.

Poster Art Font Publication Painting

Thank the goddesses. ;D
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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 earliest performances.

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." ;)
Roger Scruton is a professional philosopher as is Bryan Magee, both of whom wrote books on Wagner. I've read Magee's The Tristan Chord although I've never read Scruton's book on Wagner (I just placed an order for it though on Amazon; and I thank Wooduck for mentioning it).

When I was first getting into reading philosophy as a teenager, I always appreciated the fair and balanced exegesis of Scruton when approaching the major philosophers (so unlike, say, Bertrand Russell, who notoriously short shrifts anyone he disagrees with in his History of Western Philosophy).

So, all said, Scruton and Wagner himself are pretty weighty arguments in favor of the fact that Isolde actually dies at the end of the opera; that is to say, aside from the logic of the libretto itself.
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Does it really matter whether or not she dies in the end? The opera is over anyway as we've run out of words and music! Or as Bugs Bunny said, "What do you expect in opera? A happy ending?"
Oh yes, supremely so!: Two star-crossed lovers who won't let anything stand in their way- come what may- so that they can be together?

What could be more beautiful than that?
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Well, of course, they could have lived happily ever after!
They could have, but then that would take Tristan und Isolde from the realm of real life into the realm of fairy tale. Don't get me wrong, I LOVE fairy tales- its just that what touches me most sublimely is verisimilitude in art- and Tristan is just that.

In the real world, just as this opera shows, just as Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliette shows, and just as, say, Nietzsche's On the Birth of Tragedy and Philosophy in the Tragic Age of the Greeks all show- real heroism and real love of others and of life itself is giving it your all- on your own terms- regardless of the consequences that may ensue.

This is why Tristan and Romeo and Juliette touch me in a way that Swan Lake, Hans Christian Anderson, and Sleeping Beauty (gorgeous as they are) never can.
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You have more respect than I do for postmodernist malarkey, not to mention arrogance and obfuscation.

Mr. Douglas's position is based solely on Wagner's omission of the word "death" in describing Isolde's fate at the end of the opera, which he claims is inconsistent with the composer's usual practice. The assumption that this omission adequately demonstrates that Isolde lives on is logically absurd, but when that conclusion can also be shown to be contradicted by statements and actions of Wagner and Liszt (and certainly many others) and Mr. Douglas admits that he has always been aware of these statements and actions, the integrity of Mr. Douglas's position is on the line. Invoking dogmas such as "New Criticism" is mere obfuscation; the so-called "intentional fallacy," applied here, is nothing but a cover for the dishonest act of putting one's own "interpretation" of the "text" above that of the author, who is presumed to be incapable of interpreting the text he himself has written. It is saying nothing more than "Wagner doesn't know what he's doing or what he's talking about, but I do."

In the absence of any reason to do otherwise, simple honesty requires that we give greater credence to what Wagner says his work is about than what some random commentator says it is about a century and a half later. If Wagner says that Isolde dies at the end of the opera he has just driven himself to the limit of his powers to compose, then Isolde dies at the end of that opera. No further "criticism," "new" or otherwise, is necessary or relevant.

Postmodernist jargon is horsepuckey postmodernists wallow in to entertain themselves. Rational people with respect for the clear truth do not find it entertaining.
This is certainly an exegetical view that I believe will be sustained by any impartial standard.
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Tristan und Isolde gets my vote for The Greatest Story Ever Told.

(Well, that and Traviata in '58 Covent Garden Callas mode. ;D )
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That's it, basically. How could they have expressed their underlying feelings, given their impossible circumstances? Isolde reveals her emotions rather cryptically to Brangaene; Tristan has to suppress his completely, translating them into his extreme formality and curt responses. Their dialogue before drinking the potion is quite a nice piece of verbal fencing, keeping everything unstated; they're virtually speaking to each other in code, but they both know what they're about to do. What they aren't prepared for is the poison not working.
Jesus, don't people read and analyze libretti for themselves anymore?

That's what 'interpretation' is in literature, law, and even life itself.
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