Tristan und Isolde is an opera in three acts by Richard Wagner to a German libretto by the composer, based largely on the 12th-century romance Tristan by Gottfried von Strassburg. It was composed between 1857 and 1859 and premiered at the Königliches Hof- und Nationaltheater in Munich on June 10, 1865 with Hans von Bülow conducting.
Wagner's composition of Tristan und Isolde was inspired by the philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer. Widely acknowledged as one of the peaks of the operatic repertoire, Tristan was notable for Wagner's unprecedented use of chromaticism, tonal ambiguity, orchestral color and harmonic suspension.
The opera was enormously influential among Western classical composers and provided direct inspiration to composers such as Gustav Mahler, Richard Strauss, Karol Szymanowski, Alban Berg, Arnold Schoenberg and Benjamin Britten. Other composers like Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel and Igor Stravinsky formulated their styles in contrast to Wagner's musical legacy. Many see Tristan as the beginning of the move away from common practice harmony and tonality and consider that it lays the groundwork for the direction of classical music in the 20th century. Both Wagner's libretto style and music were also profoundly influential on the symbolist poets of the late 19th century and early 20th century.
When Tristan brings princess Isolde on his ship to Cornwall, where she is to marry his uncle, King Marke, she becomes irritated by his apparent indifference to her. In fact they are passionately in love, but their relationship is doomed. By substituting a love potion for the poison Isolde and Tristan intend to drink, Brangäne only revives their love and it is in this ecstatic state that they arrive in Cornwall. Despite Isolde’s marriage to Marke, the lovers' passion secretly unfolds, until one day they are discovered. Marke feels betrayed and becomes distraught at Tristan's behavior. Mortally wounded by Melot, King Marke’s vassal, who Kurwenal, Tristan’s servant, kills in turn, Tristan dies in Isolde’s arms. The princess collapses beside her deceased lover and they are reunited in their “love death”, the only possible outcome for their mystic union.
Tristan – Wolfgang Windgassen
Isolde – Birgit Nilsson
Brangane – Christa Ludwig
King Mark – Martti Talvela
Recorded live at the Bayreuther Festspiele
Karl Bohm – conductor
Deutshe Grammophon - 1966