TRISTAN UND ISOLDE to the power of 10


On the tenth production of TRISTAN UND ISOLDE at the Bavarian State Opera

Anja Harteros (Isolde), Jonas Kaufmann (Tristan) © W. Hösl

“There is nothing in this world like Tristan and Isolde, not even with Wagner. There is nothing that musically just works so intensively, and explains and transfigures everything.” This is how Leonard Bernstein described the piece.

Still today, the opera is considered the most romantic love tragedy of all time. After completion, it was deemed impossible to perform for some time before it finally celebrated its world premiere at the Nationaltheater on 10 June 1865. This was made possible of course by King Ludwig II and his unconditional support for Richard Wagner and the production. The work has since been staged anew multiple times here with us – Krzysztof Warlikowski’s staging is now the tenth new production. A good reason therefore for us to take a quick look at the history of our stagings.


Cast sheet of the world premiere on 10 June 1865

World premiere, 10 June 1865

Firmly convinced by his work, before the world premiere Wagner was certain that, “only mediocre performances” could rescue the opera: “I suppose totally great performances make people crazy. I can’t imagine it any other way. That’s how much my attitude has changed over all this time!” The audience was overwhelmed nonetheless.

But this staging also contributed significantly to the Tristan role being attributed the reputation of a murderous character. Just weeks after the piece’s fourth and last performance, Ludwig Schnorr von Carolsfeld, the world premiere Tristan, died aged just 29. The cause of death is still unclear to this day. His wife Malvina, the first Isolde, fell into a deep depression and never graced a stage again.

Ludwig Schnorr von Carolsfeld (Tristan), Malvina Schnorr von Carolsfeld

Premiere line-up:
Conducted by: Hans von Bülow
Staging: Eduard Sigl, Richard Wagner
Stage and costume: Angelo Quaglio II, (1st+3rd act), Heinrich Döll (2nd act)
Tristan: Ludwig Schnorr von Carolsfeld
Isolde: Malvina Schnorr von Carolsfeld

Stage models for the world premiere


Cast list of the premiere on 7 March 1880

The second staging, 1880

The premiere of the second staging was conducted by the long-serving Musical Director, Hermann Levi. Indeed this staging also demanded a fatality, although it came some years later. On 21 June 1911, Felix Mottl conducted the opera for the 100th time, but in the middle of the performance he collapsed at the podium and died just days later.

Premiere line-up:
Conducted by: Hermann Levi
Staging: Karl Brulliot
Tristan: Herr Bogl
Isolde: Frau Bogl

Stagings 3-6

The stagings that followed in 1927, 1937, 1947 and 1958 were rather less scandalous, but the pictures are always well worth perusing.

Prodution from 1927

Premiere line up:
Conducted by: Hans Knappertsbusch
Staging: Kurt Barré
Stage and costume: Leo Pasetti (S+C)
Tristan: Otto Wolf
Isolde: Elisabeth Ohms

Production from 1937

Premiere line-up:
Conducted by: Clemens Krauss
Staging: Oskar Walleck Stage and costume: Benno von Arent, Kurt Palm, Alexander Stenz-Hentze
Tristan: Julius Pölzer
Isolde: Gertrud Rünger


Helena Braun (Isolde), August Seider (Tristan)

Production from 1947

Premiere line-up:
Conducted by: Georg Solti
Staging: Georg Hartmann 
Stage and costume: Richard Panzer 
Tristan: August Seider
Isolde: Helena Braun


Ludwig Suthaus (Tristan), Martha Moedl (Isolde) © R. Betz

Production from 1958 

Premiere line-up:
Conducted by: Joseph Keilberth 
Staging: Rudolf Hartmann
Stage and costume: Emil Preetorius 
Tristan: Ludwig Suthaus
Isolde: Herta Töpper


The 7th staging, 1965

The “Tristan curse” returned to our house with the 7th staging to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the world premiere. The conductor, Joseph Keilberth, died during one of the later performances. He suffered a heart attack in the second act, succumbing to it soon after. This point is still marked today in our sheet music, and it is therefore always rather ominous for our musicians to this very day. 

Premiere line-up:
Conducted by: Joseph Keilberth
Staging: Rudolf Hartmann
Stage and costume: Rudolf Hartmann, Johannes Dreher
Tristan: Fritz Uhl
Isolde: Ingrid Bjoner


Hildegard Behrens (Isolde), Spas Wenkoff (Tristan)

Stagings 8 and 9 

The 1980 and 1998 stagings are still rather vivid for some members of our audience. Here are some impressions for you:

Staging 1980

Premiere line-up: 
Conducted by: Wolfgang Sawallisch
Staging: August Everding
Stage and costume: Herbert Kapplmüller
Tristan: Spas Wenkoff
Isolde: Hildegard Behrens



Production from 1998

Premiere line-up:
Conducted by: Zubin Mehta
Staging: Peter Konwitschny
Stage and costume: Johannes Leiacker
Tristan: Siegfried Jerusalem
Isolde: Waltraud Meier


The 10th staging of Tristan and Isolde recently celebrated its premiere at Munich’s Nationaltheater on 29 June. Enjoy the new production with Jonas Kaufmann, Anja Harteros and Krill Petrenko. Anyone who could not get a ticket, will have the chance to watch the stream on 31 July as part of Opera for All. It will also be broadcast live on STAATSOPER.TV, and is available as video-on-demand for 24 hours on 2 August.