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Tristan, Isolde, Wagner and I. "Must I waken?"
Submitted by Marcus on Mon, 2006-10-23 23:15
I saw the opera Tristan and Isolde on the weekend (staged by the Welsh National Opera), my first Wagner opera. I wanted to see what all the fuss was about and see (with an open mind) if Wagner was really the operatic genius that some people claim he is.
I have to say that theatrically it was a bit boring, I almost fell asleep at one part - even though I know the story well. I had seen the very excellent movie version (very much in the Randian life-affirming spirit) earlier this year - and I subsequently looked up the more traditional variations of this story.
Musically it was more interesting in places, even quite conventional and not as atonal as I imagined. However, again surprisingly, these were only musical highlights interspersed amongst some very dull and uninspiring music. The best parts musically of Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde were the prelude to act one (already a quite well-known and popular piece played on Classic FM) and the finale to act three (the sort of gloriously thunderous finale you would expect from Wagner).
From a "sense of life" point of view, this opera was the worst thing you could imagine. Wagner was fully in love with Schopenhauer’s philosophy by this stage of his career, so that the whole opera is just full of yearning from Tristan and Isolde about how wonderful it would be to be dead instead of having to endure such a strong and passionate love. There are even two lines that spoken by each character explicitly saying that when they die they will become one with the Universe - in that old Buddhistic ideal Schopenhauer advocated.
But don’t just take my word for it; here is a quote from a book written by a Wagner fan.
“In ActII they again want to die together. They are now openly in love with each other, and are longing for the only true oneness open to them, the oneness of the noumenal state to which death will return them.
Isolde: Let me die now.
I might try again with another Wagner opera (open minded as always), but the rest of the book does not make encouraging reading.
“Readers will remember that in Wagner the idea of a man and a woman united in death, released by their love from the need for any further life in this world, goes back through “Tannhaeuser” to “The Flying Dutchman”; but previously it had been based on rationally unsupported intuition, whereas now it has behind it the whole magnificent edifice of Kantian-Schopenhauerian philosophy.”
Oh charming! Not just boring then, but Wagner had moved on with "Tristan and Isolde" to wickedly boring! Shall I give him another try? Hmmmmm
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