Tristan and Isolde is considered one of the most emotionally gripping operas ever written, and is, perhaps, Richard Wagner’s greatest work. The story is about Tristan, nephew of King Marke, sent to bring Isolde back to be King Marke’s bride. On the long journey, Tristan and Isolde realize their passion for each other and attempt suicide by drinking a death potion, but instead, a love potion has been substituted; they live and fall more deeply in love. Their love is too powerful to deny, and they betray their King. Unable to cope with his betrayal, Tristan allows himself to be mortally wounded and Isolde wills her own death soon there after.
Many historians have speculated that Wagner’s relationship with Mathilde Wesendonck, the wife of his patron at the time, served as the inspiration for this great opera. Although the story is modeled after the ancient legend, there are many striking similarities between the events that took place between Richard, Minna, and Mathilde, and the events that took place between Tristan, Isolde, and King Marke. Wagner, whether consciously or subconsciously, created within his own personal life, the events that would take place in the plot of his opera. This reflection of Tristan’s plight in his own life allowed Wagner to experience and to express the powerful drama that makes Tristan and Isolde the masterpiece that it is today.
My paper will explore this relationship between the events in Wagner’s own personal life and the events described in Wagner’s opera.
Julie Bates, ’01 Egg Harbor Township, NJ
Major: Music Education
Sponsor: James Martin