We know the story: Tristan and Isolde, who travel in Cornwall to marry Isolde to King Marke, accidentally drink the "Herbez wine" – which Wagner calls the "love potion," and that Isolde's mother had intended for future spouses. The effect is immediate: under the influence of magic, Tristan and Isolde fall passionately in love, defying the laws and King Marke. One can not leave the other without hurting the beloved by his/her absence... The themes of Tristan are probably the most famous of the musical repertoire, and its opening, his prelude to the third act, and the final aria of Isolde dying are frequently integrated into concert programs. More recently, Lars von Trier used it as the soundtrack of his film Melancholia (2011).
Created in 1865 by Hans von Bülow, Tristan has been preoccupying Wagner for many years, from writing the libretto to its first representation. Temple of Wagnerian opera, Bayreuth hosts Christoph Marthaler that features this Tristan with the colors of the 1950s.
The success of Wagner's Tristan and Isolde refreshes the adventures of medieval lovers of Cornwall, told with passion by writers like Beroul, Thomas, Marie de France and Gottfried von Strassburg in the 12th and 13th centuries. A few years later, the French medievalist Joseph Bedier rewrote the story, mixing different versions of the legend, some of which have survived only in fragments.
1 Denis de Rougemont, Love and the West
Photo ©: Enrico Nawrath
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