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Isolde


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(Wagner: Tristan und Isolde). Sop. An Irish Princess. As the opera opens, she is on board ship, accompanied by her maid and companion Brangäne, travelling from Ireland to Cornwall. She is being escorted by Tristan to meet and marry his uncle, King Mark. Before the opening of the opera, Isolde had been engaged to Morold, who was killed in a fight with Tristan. Tristan was wounded and came to be nursed by Isolde, who was known to have magic healing powers. She did not recognize him as her betrothed's killer until she saw there was a sliver missing from his sword and realized it matched the splinter found in Morold's skull. Isolde wanted to kill Tristan, but when she looked into his eyes she fell in love with him and was unable to carry out her intention. Now she is on her way to marry the King. As the ship approaches the shores of Cornwall, Isolde becomes more agitated, not wanting to meet Mark. She sends Brangäne to fetch Tristan, but he demurs. Isolde decides that, as he is not interested in her, he shall die rather than take her to his aged uncle, and she will gladly die rather than go without the love of Tristan. Brangäne is sent to fetch the box of potions which Isolde's mother gave her, and from these Isolde takes the death‐potion and orders Brangäne to mix a drink from it. Tristan comes to tell her to make ready to meet his uncle. Isolde persuades him that, as she spared his life, he must share with her a drink of reconciliation. Together they drink from the potion, but Brangäne has switched the drink and has mixed the love‐potion instead. All inhibitions are released and Tristan and Isolde join in a passionate embrace. Tristan's servant and friend, Kurwenal, rushes in to tell them that King Mark is about to come on board. Realizing their predicament, Isolde falls unconscious. In the King's castle Isolde and Tristan plan to meet later that night; they have arranged a signal—the torch outside Isolde's apartment will be extinguished as a sign that it is safe for him to come. Brangäne is reluctant to put out the torch, warning Isolde that she fears a plot to expose them to the King, so Isolde quenches the flame herself, ignoring Brangäne's warning. Tristan enters and he and Isolde, reunited, make passionate love, again ignoring Brangäne warning of trouble ahead. They are brought to their senses by the sudden arrival of Kurwenal—Melot has betrayed his friend Tristan and Mark is on his way to catch the lovers together. Melot challenges Tristan to fight and Tristan deliberately throws himself on to Melot's sword. He is seriously wounded and carried off by Kurwenal. Isolde is sent for to come to Kareol, Tristan's estate in Brittany, where Kurwenal has taken her lover. Isolde was able to heal him once before, now she departs to join him again. She is met by Kurwenal who takes her to Tristan, but as she arrives he dies in her arms. Distraught, she first pleads with him to wake up, then berates him for deserting her, and finally collapses over his body. She recovers consciousness to find Brangäne bending over her, having arrived with Mark who, now aware of the truth about the love‐potion, had come to give them his blessing. However, Isolde wants only to be united with Tristan, if not in life, then in death—feelings she pours out in her famous Liebestod (love‐death). Arias: Von seinem Lager blickt' er her (‘From his bed he looked up’); O blinde Augen! (‘Oh, blind eyes!’); Mild und leise (‘Softly and gently’—this is the Liebestod); duets (with Tristan): Tristan!…Isolde!…Treuloser Holder! (‘Tristan!…Isolde!…Faithless darling!’); O ew'ge Nacht…(‘O eternal night’).

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Subjects: Opera.


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