TRISTAN UND ISOLDE – live broadcast on 31 July 2021
Richard Wagner’s perhaps most radical and most personal opera enjoyed its world premiere in Munich’s Nationaltheater in 1865.
The now tenth Munich staging of Tristan and Isolde celebrates its premiere on 29 June 2021. Krzysztof Warlikowski, who last staged Salome at the Bayerische Staatsoper in 2019, directs. Former General Music Director Kirill Petrenko conducts the Bayerisches Staatsorchester.
Anja Harteros und Jonas Kaufmann embody the title roles (both making their scenic role debut), ensemble member Okka von der Damerau is Brangäne, and Mika Kares is our King Marke (also in a role debut).
The new production will be broadcast live as part of OPERA FOR ALL on 31 July, on Munich’s Marstallplatz with free admission and free of charge via STAATSOPER.TV for all.
Love-death, Tristan chord and death wish – the piece and the staging
The work deals with the eponymous pair’s transboundary love: “Life and death, the whole meaning and existence of the outer world, here depend on nothing else than the inner movements of the soul,” said Wagner about his opera. A love forbidden by society’s rules, as Isolde is actually to be the wife of King Marke, Tristan’s uncle. The composer was himself no stranger to marriage-endangering relationships, from the secretive to the openly displayed. As the opera came together, he maintained a close bond with Mathilde Wesendonck, the wife of his patron at the time, Otto Wesendonck. Shortly before the Tristan and Isolde premiere in Munich, the composer also began an affair with Cosima, wife of the conductor of this very same world premiere – Hans von Bülow. In Wagner’s opera, his protagonist couple consider this “love-death” several times as a way out, but Tristan and Isolde are prevented from realising it until the end. Music with which Wagner trashed out the boundaries of tonality and which influenced composers for generations to come, rings out here. The opera had the reputation from day one of being technically impossible to perform, because of the colossal musical demands on the singers and the orchestra. After several unsuccessful world premiere attempts – among others in Vienna with 77 rehearsals – the tour de force only first succeeded in Munich’s Nationaltheater with the unconditional support of Wagner’s greatest patron, Ludwig II.
Following the war between Ireland and Cornwall and as part of the terms of peace, the Irish Princess Isolde is brought by Tristan to Cornwall to marry King Marke. Tristan had already slain Isolde’s previous fiancée Morold in combat; she then healed Tristan’s wounds, believing him to be someone else. She wants revenge, but spares Tristan’s life. Still outraged, Isolde forges a plan to kill herself and Tristan. Instead of the expected poison, however, the two drink a love potion after Isolde’s confidante, Brangäne, has swapped the drinks. Betraying Marke, Tristan and Isolde meet secretively at night, until Melot’s treachery reveals all to the King. Tristan throws himself on Melot’s sword after Isolde has promised to follow him into the realm of death. Brought by his closest confidante Kurwenal to his childhood home, Tristan is consumed by his yearning for Isolde. He dies as she arrives. Marke has come to forgive the lovers, but Kurwenal is blind to the peaceful intentions of the King and his entourage. He attacks Melot and both are killed in the ensuing fight. Marke laments his dead friend Tristan, whom Isolde, freed from all, follows into death.
In his staging Krzysztof Warlikowski examines the question about the circumstances that can bring someone to end their own life. What role does this “love-death” play? The staging begins the search for Tristan’s inner wounds. The eponymous hero, seriously wounded twice over the course of the backstory and the opera plot, carries with him the life-long burden of the loss of his parents, before and during his birth. For the three acts, Małgorzata Szczęśniak has created one single, seemingly claustrophobic, wood-panelled adjustable stage set, in which the characters are confronted with their conflicts and psychological abysses.
The final new production of Nikolaus Bachler’s term as General Manager will be conducted by General Music Director Kirill Petrenko, already a celebrated conductor of Wagner’s operas in Munich with the new stagings of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Tannhäuser and Parsifal. The Munich “dream pair”, Jonas Kaufmann and Anja Harteros, first seen on the stage of the Nationaltheater in 2009 in Richard Wagner’s Lohengrin, both make their scenic role debuts.