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1 (Wagner: Tristan und Isolde). Ten. (Heldentenor). A Cornish knight, nephew of King Mark of Cornwall. Before the opera opens, he killed Morold, who was to marry the Irish Princess Isolde. She swore revenge. Tristan was injured in the fight with Morold and his boat landed in Ireland, where Isolde nursed him back to health. He was presented to her as ‘Tantris’, and at first she did not know who he was, but she saw his sword with a small piece missing from the blade and realized that this matched exactly the piece of metal which had been lodged in Morold's skull. She vowed to kill Tristan, but could not bring herself to do so, for when she looked into his eyes they fell in love. She allowed him to return to Cornwall where, as King Mark's favourite nephew, he was due to inherit the throne. The King's courtiers suggested he should marry the princess of whom Tristan spoke, and Tristan, despite his own feelings for Isolde, offered to escort her from Ireland to meet her elderly bridegroom. This is where the opera begins, as they sail towards Cornwall. Isolde is accompanied by her maid Brangäne and Tristan by his loyal servant and friend Kurwenal. Brangäne enters his quarters to summon him to speak to her mistress, but he refuses to go. However, as they approach the coast, Isolde sends a message that she will not disembark unless he comes to her first. When he enters her apartment, she is clearly upset that he has avoided her throughout the journey, but he explains that this was the best plan for both of them. Isolde reminds him that, as the slayer of Morold, he is still in her debt and must drink with her a draught of reconciliation—Brangäne will prepare the drink. Unknown to Tristan, Isolde has chosen a death-potion for them both, but Brangäne surreptitiously exchanges it for a love-potion. As soon as Tristan and Isolde drink the fluid, they fall into each other's arms and declare their love. Kurwenal interrupts their passionate embrace to warn them King Mark is about to come on board. After their first few days at Mark's castle, Tristan and Isolde arrange a meeting in her apartment. Once together, they have eyes and ears for no one else and ignore Brangäne's warning of treachery ahead—she is sure that Tristan's friend Melot will betray them to the King. Kurwenal bursts in to the room to try to save them, but is closely followed by Mark and Melot. Mark laments the betrayal by his favourite nephew and Tristan is genuinely upset at having caused his uncle such distress. He is unable to explain his actions (for he is unaware of having taken the love-potion). He asks Isolde if she will follow him even unto death and she at once concurs. Melot approaches with his sword drawn and Tristan deliberately falls on to Melot's sword. Seriously wounded, he collapses into Kurwenal's arms as Isolde throws herself at his inert body. Kurwenal carries the unconscious Tristan to the boat and takes him to his estate in Kareol, Brittany, to nurse him. It is clear that his condition is deteriorating, and Kurwenal sends for Isolde—her magic healing powers cured him once, and hopefully will do so again. Slowly Tristan recovers consciousness, but makes it clear he would rather stay oblivious to the world—oblivion is the only state which appeals to him now that he has lost Isolde. When Kurwenal explains to him that he has sent for her, Tristan rallies a little to express his thanks to Kurwenal for his loyalty all the years they have known each other. Kurwenal describes to his master the slow approach of the ship carrying Isolde and Tristan sends him to bring her to his room. He tears off his bandages, rouses himself from his couch, and lurches towards Isolde. In her arms, he sinks to the ground, dead. The last word he speaks is ‘Isolde’. The arrival of Mark to forgive him and give the couple his blessing has come too late. Arias: O König, das kann ich dir nicht sagen (‘O King, I cannot tell you that’); Welches Sehnen! Welches Bangen! (‘What longing! What fearing!’); Muss ich dich so verstehn (‘Must I understand you thus’); O diese Sonne! (‘Oh, this sun!’); duets (with Isolde): Isolde!…Seligste Frau! (‘Isolde!…Blessed lady!’); Isolde! Geliebte! (‘Isolde! Beloved!’); Lausch, Geliebte!…O ew'ge Nacht, süsse Nacht! (‘Listen, beloved!…O eternal night, sweet night!’).


Subjects: Opera.

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