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If "Der fliegende Holländer" is Wagner 101, "Tristan und Isolde" is a graduate course.
Travel, magic, mystery, turmoil, torment, deception, love, desire, denial, consummation, and death: all these elements and more are present in this opera. And as author Christopher Cook rightly says, the work which was "never intended to be a romantic love story" also "refuses to conform to any single meaning."
The author presents his intriguing insights with contributions from additional narrators and musical excerpts. He discusses the details of Wagner's initial inspiration, including his tempetuous affair with Mathilde Wesendonck.
Wagner said he embarked on the work because "never in my life having enjoyed the true happiness of love," he would create this opera as "a memorial to this loveliest of all dreams, from which, from first to last, love shall for once find utter repletion."
The music of "Tristan und Isolde" was nothing less than revolutionary with its (now-famous) "Tristan chord," and the prolonged unfinished cadences and harmonic suspensions which reflect the interior drama of the characters. From the first notes to the final "Mild und leise wie er lächelt," Wagner presented innovations that did nothing less than change the course of western music forever. With our modern ears, all too used to movie soundtracks and dramatic effects, we might not realize just how provocative these musical effects were in Wagner's day.
Friedrich Nietzsche was moved to write that the opera expressed "the insatiable and sweet craving for the secrets of night and death." Clara Schumann called it "the most repugnant thing I've ever seen or heard."
One thing is certain: it is not an opera which provokes indifference. And for all that it contributed to the development of music, it's worth at least one listen, if not one hundred. May you find magic in it.
6 of 7 people found this review helpful
A marvellous and informative introduction to this opera. Well read, intelligent and insightful. The mix of story, comment and music works very well. If Wagner has always felt inaccessible to you then this is a good place to start. Highly recommended.