Tristan and Isolde

Richard Wagner: Tristan and Isolde (1857-1859)
Biography of Wagner


Before writing Tristan and Isolde, Richard Wagner had composed several decent, conventional, though overlong, operas. His third Rienzi weighed in at its premiere at nearly 6 hours before Wagner was forced to trim it. These earlier operas fit into the forms that defined "classical" opera: a series of vignettes, or "set pieces" arranged in a traditional formula of recitatives and arias. These divisions were commonplace in both the bel canto operas of Rossini and the classical operas of Mozart performed in the first half of the nineteenth century. In this style, recitatives were simple affairs with a lot of words and a sparse accompaniment, while arias tended to be more formal, with orchestral introductions leading into a showy aria. The resulting music could have a choppy, almost pastiche sound to it as each unit stood by itself. At the same time, soloists took the liberty of swapping arias from one opera with those of another in order to demonstrate their strengths. While audiences clamored for these vocal gymnastics, the drama of the work suffered. To counter this and assert control over his work, Wagner abandoned traditional divisions in Tristan and Isolde replacing them with what he called "continuous melody": a melody that was always moving forward; always becoming one thing or another. In so doing, Wagner eliminated the artificial divisions between recitative and aria: everything was aria and everything was recitative.
There were few indications that Wagner's music would take such a decisive and radical turn away from the traditional strucutres of opera. While there are hints of it in his previous compositions, in Tristan Wagner's ideas emerge in full-flower. Some biographers a catalyst for this awakening in Wagner's torrid affair with Mde. Wesendonck, the wife of one of his patrons.
For Wagner, opera was the consumation of art and therefore a path to transcendence. He supervised all aspects of the production and felt that the unity of voice, instruments, libretto, set, costumes and even the great festspielhaus (opera house) at Bayreuth together constituted a unified whole far greater than the individual parts. In this way the unity could promulgate the overarching aim of the work, be it the creation of a German mythology as in Wagner's cycle of operas, The Ring of the Nibelungen or philosophical-religious issues as in Parsifal. This unity of all elements came to be known as gesamtkunstwerk, or "total artwork."
As a person, Wagner had flaws. Though generally well-liked - he was an excellent conversationalist and carried himself with a great sense of bravado - he was difficult with patrons and espoused Anti-Semitic views. In bringing his monumental ideas for opera to fruition he incurred massive debt. To overcome this debt he composed, at great cost to the commissioner, works such as the terrible Centennial Overture written for the American Centennial in 1876 , or barring a commission would simply hightail it from town.

Richard Wagner (1810-1856)

The Original Tristan and Isolde
Wagner's Compositional Technique
Wagner used an intricate system of musical references, known as leitmotives, to illustrate the psychological implications of a particular scene, character, or situation. In this system, instrumental motives symbolize particular characters, events or ideas. Wagner then uses these motives throughout the opera in an almost cinematic way - creating intricate subtexts with his musical accompaniments. Something similar can be seen in much of modern film music. For instance, in John Williams' scores for Star Wars, or Superman leitmotives are used to represent characters and ideas in order to keep the viewer tuned in to the activity of the plot.

It may prove helpful to acquaint yourself with some of the leitmotives that Wagner uses in the opera before you listen to the selection. You can see some of the leitmotives here.

A better explanation of leitmotives can be found at Columbia Sonic Glossary here.

Things to Listen For
Wagner's Tristan and Isolde is one of the most influential works of the 19th century if not classical music. From the very first ambiguous strains of the prelude to the opera's final consummation in Isolde's Liebestod, or "Love-death" Wagner manages to build and exploit tensions, holding off a final cadential resolution, equivalent to the accumulated tension, until the very end of the four-plus hours of opera. From the prelude to the heights of emotion in the Liebesnacht or "love-night" through to the deaths of Tristan and Isolde and the lament of Isolde's betrothed, King Marke, Wagner continuously withholds cadences and through this is able to portray the theme of the opera: the idea of sehnsucht or "longing," most clearly.
Listen to the opening strains of the prelude. The very first melodic fragment in the cellos sets up the atmosphere: this is our leitmotive for grief or sorrow. It is followed by an unresolved and tonally ambiguous "Tristan" chord: this is our lietmotive for longing or desire. To illustrate this notion of desire further, Wagner heightens the tension by smoothing over the cadence. It is this constant elision of phrases, combined with a lack of cadences, that are the hallmarks of Wagner's style.
The chromatic floodgates that Wagner opened in this work would lead to the massive symphonies of Late Romantic composers like Bruckner, early Schoenberg and Mahler. Once the possibilities of enormously extended and highly chromatic tonality are unleashed it was only a matter of time before tonality itself was completely and irrevocably dissolved.

We are introduced to the main motives of the work, exemplified by the sehnsucht, or longing motive and the "Tristan Chord" a chord whose resolution is held off for the four plus hours of the opera; as well as the intense longing and timestopping emotion of the opera. Leitmotives in the Prelude

Act 1
Act 2
Act 3

Tristan and Isolde's Liebesnacht ("Love-Night") from Act 2, Scene 2


Tristan und Isolde

Tristan and Isolde
(stürzt herein)

Isolde! Geliebte!
(rushes in)

Isolde! Beloved!
(ihm entgegenspringend)

Tristan! Geliebter!
(leaping towards him)

Tristan! Beloved!
(Stürmische Umarmungen beider, unter denen sie in den Vordergrund gelangen) (In a passionate embrace they move downstage)

Bist du mein?

Are you mine?

Hab ich dich wieder?

With me once more?

Darf ich dich fassen?

Dare I hold you?

Kann ich mir trauen?

Can I belive it?

Endlich! Endlich!

At last! At last!

An meiner Brust!

On my breast!

Fühl ich dich wirklich?

Is it really you I feel?

Seh' ich dich selber?

Is it you I see?

Dies deine Augen?

These your eyes?

Dies dein Mund?

This your mouth?

Hier deine Hand?

Here your hand?

Hier dein Herz?

Here your heart?

Bin ich's? Bist du's?
Halt ich dich fest?

Is it I? Is it you?
You, clasped in my arms?

Bin ich's? Bist du's?
Ist es kein Trug?

Is it I? Is it you?
No illusion?

Ist es kein Traum?
O Wonne der Seele,
o süsse, hehrste,
kühnste, schönste,
seligste Lust!

Not a dream?
O heart's rapture,
o sweet, most sublime,
boldest, loveliest,
most blessed joy!

Ohne Gleiche!

Without equal!




Replete with bliss!





nie gekannte!

Never dreamt of!
Never yet known!

hoch erhabne!

exalted and sublime!


Joyous exulting!


Blisful delight!

Mein! Tristan mein!
Mein und dein!
Ewig, ewig ein!

Heaven-high soaring
beyond the world!
My Tristan mine!
Mine and yours!
Ever, ever one!

Mein! Isolde mein!
Mein und dein!
Ewig, ewig ein!

Heaven-high soaring
beyond the world!
My Isolde mine!
Mine and yours!
Ever, ever one!

Wie lange fern!
Wie fern so lang!

For how long away!
Away for so long!

Wie weit so nah!
So nah wie weit!

How far yet so near!
So near yet how far!

O Freundesfeindin,
böse Ferne!
Träger Zeiten
zögernde Länge!

O enemy of friends,
evil distance!
Drawn-out time's
lingering expanse!

O Weit' und Nähe!
Hart entzweite!
Holde Nähe!
Öde Weite!

O distance and nearness,
sternly parted!
Sweet nearness!
Desolate distance!

Im Dunkel du,
im Lichte ich!

You in darkness,
I in light!

Das Licht! Das Licht!
O dieses Licht,
wie lang verlosch es nicht!
Die Sonne sank,
der Tag verging,
doch seinen Neid
erstickt' er nicht:
sein scheuchend Zeichen
zündet er an,
und steckt's an der Liebsten Türe,
dass nicht ich zu ihr führe.


The light! The light!
Oh, this light,
how long before it was extinguished!
The sun set,
Day ran its course
but it would not stifle
its spite:
lighting its dread signal
it places it
at the loved one's door
so that I might not go to her.

Doch der Liebsten Hand
löschte das Licht;
wes die Magd sich wehrte,
scheut' ich mich nicht:
in Frau Minnes Macht und Schutz
bot ich dem Tage Trutz!

But the loved one's hand
extinguished the light;
what the maid would not risk
I did not fear:
under the power and protection of the Love-Spirit
I bade defiance to Day!

Dem Tage! dem Tage!
dem tückischen Tage,
dem härtesten Feinde
Hass und Klage!
Wie du das Licht,
o könnt' ich die Leuchte,
der Liebe Leiden zu rächen,
dem frechen Tage verlöschen!
Gibt's eine Not,
gibt's eine Pein,
die er nicht weckt
mit seinem Schein?
Selbst in der Nacht
dämmernder Pracht
hegt ihn Liebchen am Haus,
streckt mir drohend ihn aus!

Day! For Day,
for spiteful Day,
the most bitter foe,
hatred and grievance!
Just as you extinguished the light,
would that I could
extinguish the light of insolent Day
to avenge the pangs of love!
Is there any distress,
is there any anguish
which it does not revive
with its beams?
Even in Night's
darkling glory
my beloved harbours it in her house,
letting its threatening beams fall towards me.

Hegt ihn die Liebste
am eignen Haus,
im eignen Herzen
hell und kraus,
hegt' ihn trotzig
einst mein Trauter:
Tristan, - der mich betrog!
War's nicht der Tag,
der aus ihm log,
als er nach Irland
werbend zog,
für Marke mich zu frein,
dem Tod die Treue zu weihn.

Is your beloved keeps it
in her own house,
so did my love once
defiantly foster it
in his heart,
bright and devious:
Tristan, he that betrayed me!
Was it not Day
that made him false
when he came to Ireland
as a suitor
to court me for King Mark,
to dedicate loyalty to Death?

Der Tag! Der Tag,
der dich umgliss,
dahin, wo sie
der Sonne glich,
in höchster Ehren
Glanz und Licht
Isolde mir entrückt'!
Was mir das Auge
so entzückt',
mein Herze tief
zur Erde drückt':
in lichten Tages Schein
wie war Isolde mein?

Day! Day!
Which shimmered round about you,
to there where she
seemed like the sun
in highest honour's
radiant glow,
Isolde withdrew from me!
That which so
delighted my eye
made my heart sink
to the depths of the earth:
in the bright light of Day
how could Isolde be mine?

War sie nicht dein,
die dich erkor?
Was log der böse
Tag dir vor,
dass, die für dich beschieden,
die Traute du verrietest?

Was she not yours,
she that chose you?
What lies did evil Day
tell you
that you betrayed your dearest,
she that was destined to be yours?

Was dich umgliss
mit hehrster Pracht,
der Ehre Glanz,
des Ruhmes Macht,
an sie mein Herz zu hangen,
hielt mich der Wahn gefangen.
Die mit des Schimmers
hellstem Schein
mir Haupt und Scheitel
licht beschien,
der Welten-Ehren
mit ihrer Strahlen
eitler Wonne,
durch Haupt und Scheitel
drang mir ein,
bis in des Herzens
tiefsten Schrein.
Was dort in keuscher Nacht
dunkel verschlossen wacht',
was ohne Wiss' und Wahn
ich dämmernd dort empfahn:
ein Bild, das meine Augen
zu schaun sich nicht getrauten,
von des Tages Schein betroffen
lag mir's da schimmernd offen.
Was mir so rühmlich
schien und hehr,
das rühmt ich hell
vor allem Heer;
vor allem Volke
pries ich laut
der Erde schönste
Dem Neid, den mir
der Tag erweckt';
dem Eifer, den
mein Glücke schreckt';
der Missgunst, die mir Ehren
und Ruhm begann zu schweren:
denen bot ich Trotz,
und treu beschloss,
um Ehr' und Ruhm zu wahren,
nach Irland ich zu fahren.

In the grip of madness I could not but
yeld my heart
to that which shimmered round about you
in majestic splendour,
the glitter of honour and
the power of renown.
Day's bright orb
of worldly honour,
shining upon me
with the brightest
radiant glow,
my head
with its beams
of vain bliss
and reached
the deepest recesses
of my heart.
What lay there
darkly concealed in chaste night,
what I dimly perceived,
not knowing, not imagining;
a form, which my eyes
could not believe they saw,
caught in the light of Day,
lay there gleaming before me.
Before the whole throng
I praised in clear tones
what seemed to me
so glorious and sublime;
before all the people
I extolled aloud
the loveliest
royal bride on earth.
I bade defiance to
the envy which
Day awakened in me,
to the zeal which
threatened my happiness,
to the jealousy which began to make
honour and fame a burden to me,
and firmly resolved
to uphold honour and glory,
to go to Ireland.

O eitler Tagesknecht!
Getäuscht von ihm,
der dich getäuscht,
wie musst' ich liebend
um dich leiden,
den, in des Tages
falschem Prangen,
von seines Gleissens
Trug befangen,
dort wo ihn Liebe
heiss umfasste,
im tiefsten Herzen
hell ich hasste.
Ach, in des Herzens Grunde,
wie schmerzte tief die Wunde!
Den dort ich heimlich barg,
wie dünkt' er mich so arg,
wenn in des Tages Scheine
der treu gehegte eine
der Liebe Blicken schwand,
als Feind nur vor mir stand!
Das als Verräter
dich mir wies,
dem Licht des Tages
wollt' ich entfliehn,
dorthin in die Nacht
dich mit mir ziehn,
wo der Täuschung Ende
mein Herz mir verhiess;
wo des Trugs geahnter
Wahn zerrinne;
dort dir zu trinken
ew'ge Minne,
mit mir dich im Verein
wollt' ich dem Tode weihn.

O vain thrall of Day!
Deceived by that which
deceived you,
how I, loving you,
suffered on your account;
caught in Day's
false glitter,
in the snare
of its cunning,
in the depths of my heart,
where burning love
encompassed him,
I hated him bitterly.
Ah, what piercing pain
in the recesses of my heart!
How hard he whom I secretly harboured there
must have thought me
when, in the light of Day
my faithfully cherished one
vanished to loving eyes
and stood before me only as a foe!
From the light of Day
which made you appear to me
a traitor
I wished to flee
into Night,
to take you with me,
where my heart would bid me
end all deception,
where the vain premonition
of treachery might be dispelled,
there to pledge to you
eternal love,
to consecrate you to Death
in company with myself.

In deiner Hand
den süssen Tod,
als ich ihn erkannt,
den sie mir bot;
als mir die Ahnung
hehr und gewiss
zeigte, was mir
die Sühne verhiess:
da erdämmerte mild
erhabner Macht
im Busen mir die Nacht;
mein Tag war da vollbracht.

When I recognised
sweet death
offered to me
at your hand;
when a bold and
clear presentiment
showed me what
expiation demanded;
there dawned gently
in my heart
the lofty power of Night;
my Day was then accomplished.

Doch ach, dich täuschte
der falsche Trank,
dass dir von neuem
die Nacht versank:
dem einzig am Tode lag,
den gab er wieder dem Tag!

Alas, you were confused
by the deceiving potion
so that once again
Night eluded you:
as you faced only death,
it restored you to Day!

O Heil dem Tranke!
Heil seinem Saft!
Heil seines Zaubers
hehrer Kraft!
Durch des Todes Tor,
wo er mir floss,
weit und offen
er mir erschloss,
darin ich sonst nur träumend gewacht,
das Wunderreich der Nacht.
Von dem Bild in des Herzens
bergendem Schrein
scheucht er des Tages
täuschenden Schein,
dass nachtsichtig mein Auge
wahr es zu sehen tauge.

Hail to the potion!
Hail to the draught!
Hail to its magic's
sublime power!
Through Death's portals
wide and open
it flowed towards me
opening up
the wondrous realm of Night
where I had only been in dreams.
From the image in my heart's
sheltering cell
it repelled day's
deceiving beams,
so that in darkness my eyes
might serve to see it clearly.

Doch es rächte sich
der verscheuchte Tag;
mit deinen Sünden
Rat's er pflag;
was dir gezeigt
die dämmernde Nacht,
an des Taggestirnes
musstest du's übergeben,
um einsam
in öder Pracht
schimmernd dort zu leben.
Wie ertrug ich's nur?
Wie ertrag ich's noch?

Yet banished Day
avenged itself;
with yours sins
it took counsel;
what darkling Night
showed you
you had to surrender
to the regal power
of the Day-star,
to live alone,
gleaming there
in solitary splendour.
How could I bear it?
How can I endure it now?

O nun waren wir
Der tückische Tag,
der Neidbereite,
trennen konnt uns sein Trug,
doch nicht mehr täuschen sein Lug!
Seine eitle Pracht,
seinen prahlenden Schein
verlacht, wem die Nacht
den Blick geweiht:
seines flackernden Lichtes
flüchtige Blitze
blenden uns nicht mehr.
Wer des Todes Nacht
liebend erschaut,
wem sie ihr tief
Geheimnis vertraut:
des Tages Lügen,
Ruhm und Ehr',
Macht und Gewinn,
so schimmernd hehr,
wie eitler Staub der Sonnen
sind sie vor dem zersponnen!
In des Tages eitlem Wähnen
bleibt ihm ein einzig Sehnen -
das Sehnen hin
zur heil'gen Nacht,
wo urewig,
einzig wahr
Liebeswonne ihm lacht!

Oh, now we were
dedicated to Night!
Spiteful Day
with ready envy
could part us with its tricks
but no longer mislead us with guile.
Its vain glory,
its flaunting display
are mocked by those to whom Night
has granted sight.
The fleeting flashes
of its flickering light
no longer dazzle us.
Before him who has seen with love death's night,
before him to whom she confided
her dark secret,
are scattered
the lies, the renown
and honour of Day,
power and advantage
shining and glorious,
as the paltry dust
caught in the sunbeam!
Amid the vain fancy of Day
he still harbours one desire -
the yearning
for sacred Night
where, all-eternal,
true alone,
love's bliss smiles on him!
(Tristan zieht Isolde sanft zur Seite auf eine Blumenbank nieder, senkt sich vor ihr auf die Knie und schmiegt sein Haupt in ihren Arm)

O sink hernieder,
Nacht der Liebe,
gib Vergessen,
dass ich lebe;
nimm mich auf
in deinen Schoss,
löse von
der Welt mich los!


O Night of love,
grant oblivion
that I may live;
take me up
into your bosom,
release me from
the world!

Verloschen nun
die letzte Leuchte;

Extinguished now
the last glimmers;

was wir dachten,
was uns deuchte;

what we thought,
what we imagined;

all Gedenken -

all thought

all Gemahnen -

all remembering,

heil'ger Dämm'rung
hehres Ahnen
löscht des Wähnens Graus
welterlösend aus.

the glorious presentiment
of sacred twilight
extinguishes imagined terrors,

Barg im Busen
uns sich die Sonne,
leuchten lachend
Sterne der Wonne.

The sun concealed
itself in our bosom,
the stars of bliss
gleam, laughing,

Von deinem Zauber
sanft umsponnen,
vor deinen Augen
süss zerronnen;

softly entwined
in your magic,
sweetly dissolved
before your eyes;

Herz an Herz dir,
Mund an Mund;


heart on your heart,
mouth on mouth;

eines Atems
ein'ger Bund; -

the single bond
of a single breath;

bricht mein Blick sich
erbleicht die Welt
mit ihrem Blenden:

my glance is deflected,
dazzled with bliss,
the world palses
with its blinding radiance:

die uns der Tag
trügend erhellt,

lit by Day's
guileful deception,

zu täuschendem Wahn

standing firm against
deceitful delusion,

selbst dann
bin ich die Welt:
Wonne-hehrstes Weben,
Liebe-heiligstes Leben,
hold bewusster Wunsch.


then am I
myself the world;
floating in sublime bliss,
life of love most sacred,
the sweetly conscious
undeluded wish
never again to waken.
(Tristan und Isolde versinken wie in gänzliche Entrücktheit, in der sie, Haupt an Haupt auf die Blumenbank zurückgelehnt, verweilen)  
(von der Zinne her)

Einsam wachend
in der Nacht,
wem der Traum
der Liebe lacht,
hab der einen
Ruf in acht,
die den Schläfern
Schlimmes ahnt,
bange zum
Erwachen mahnt.
Habet acht!
Habet acht!
Bald entweicht die Nacht.
(from the tower)

You upon whom
love's dream smiles,
take heed of
the voice of one
keeping solitary
watch at night,
foreseeing evil
for the sleepers,
anxiously urging
you to waken.
Night soon melts away.

Lausch, Geliebter!

Listen, beloved!

Lass mich sterben!

Let me die!
(allmählich sich ein wenig erhebend)

Neid'sche Wache!
(gradually raising her head a little)

Jealous watch!
(zurückgelehnt bleibend)

Nie erwachen!
(still reclining)

Never waken!

Doch der Tag
muss Tristan wecken?

Must Day then
waken Tristan?
(ein wenig das Haupt erhebend)

Lass den Tag
dem Tode weichen!
(raising his head a little)

Let Day
give way before death!

Tag und Tod,
mit gleichen Streichen,
sollten unsre
Lieb' erreichen?

Should Day
and Death
both reach
our love?
(sich mehr aufrichtend)

Unsre Liebe?
Tristans Liebe?
Dein' und mein',
Isoldes Liebe?
Welches Todes Streichen
könnte je sie weichen?
Stünd' er vor mir,
der mächt'ge Tod,
wie er mir Leib
und Leben bedroht,
die ich so willig
der Liebe lasse,
wie wäre seinen Streichen
die Liebe selbst zu erreichen?

(immer inniger mit dem Haupt
sich an Isolde schmiegend)

Stürb ich nun ihr,
der so gern ich sterbe,
wie könnte die Liebe
mit mir sterben,
die ewig lebende
mit mir enden?
Doch, stürbe nie seine Liebe,
wie stürbe dann Tristan
seiner Liebe?
(raising himself up more)

Our love?
Tristan's love?
Yours and mine,
Isolde's love?
What strokes of death
could ever make it yeld?
If mighty Death
stood before me
the very life in my body
which I would so gladly leave
for love,
how could it
reach love itself?

Were I to give my life to that
for which I would so gladly die,
how could love
die with me,
the ever-living
end with me?
And if his love were never to die
how could Tristan die
of his love?

Doch unsre Liebe,
heisst sie nicht Tristan
und - Isolde?
Dies süsse Wörtlein: und,
was es bindet,
der Liebe Bund,
wenn Tristan stürb,
zerstört' es nicht der Tod?

But our love,
is it not Tristan
and Isolde?
This sweet little word: and,
would death not destroy
the bonds of love
which it entwines
if Tristan were to die?

Was stürbe dem Tod,
als was uns stört,
was Tristan wehrt,
Isolde immer zu lieben,
ewig ihr nur zu leben?

What could die
but that which troubles us,
preventing Tristan
from ever loving Isolde,
forever loving only her?

Doch dieses Wörtlein: und, -
wär' es zerstört,
wie anders als
mit Isoldes eignem Leben
wär' Tristan der Tod gegeben?

Yet this little word: and,
were it destroyed,
how else but together
with Isolde's own life
would death be given to Tristan?
(Tristan zieht, mit bedeutungsvoller Gebärde, Isolde sanft an sich) (Tristan with a meaningful gesture, gently draws Isolde to him)

So starben wir,
um ungetrennt,
ewig einig
ohne End',
ohn' Erwachen,
ohn' Erbangen,
in Lieb' umfangen,
ganz uns selbst gegeben,
der Liebe nur zu leben!

Thus might we die,
that together,
ever one,
without end,
never waking,
never fearing,
enveloped in love,
given up to each other,
to live only for love!
(wie in sinnender Entrücktheit
zu ihm aufblickend)

So stürben wir,
um ungetrennt, -

(as if in reflective rapture,
looking up at him)

Thus would we die,
that together -

ewig einig
ohne End', -

ever one,
without end -

ohn' Erwachen, -

never waking -

ohn' Erbangen, -

never fearing -

in Lieb' umfangen,
ganz uns selbst gegeben,
der Liebe nur zu leben!

enveloped in love,
given up to ourselves
to live only for love!
(Isolde neigt wie überwältigt das Haupt an seine Brust)  
(wie vorher)

Habet acht!
Habet acht!
Schon weicht dem Tag die Nacht.
(as before)

Night soon gives way to Day.
(lächelnd zu Isolde geneigt)

Soll ich lauschen?
(smiling down at Isolde)

Shall I listen?
(schwärmerisch zu Tristan aufblickend)

Lass mich sterben!
(dreamily looking up at Tristan)

Let me die!

Muss ich wachen?

Must I waken?

Nie erwachen!

Never waken!

Soll der Tag
noch Tristan wecken?

Shall Day
still waken Tristan?

Lass den Tag
dem Tode weichen!

Let Day
give way to Death!

Des Tages Dräuen
nun trotzten wir so?

Have we Day's menaces
thus defied?
(mit wachsender Begeisterung)

Seinem Trug ewig zu fliehn!
(in growing rapture)

Ever to flee its guile.

Sein dämmernder Schein
verscheuchte uns nie?

Did its dawning
never affright us?
(mit grosser Gebärde
ganz sich erhebend)

Ewig währ uns die Nacht!
(raising herself up
with a grand gesture)

May our Night endure for ever!
(Tristan folgt ihr, sie umfangen sich in schwärmerischer Begeisterung)  

O ew'ge Nacht,
süsse Nacht!
Hehr erhabne
Wen du umfangen,
wem du gelacht,
wie wär' ohne Bangen
aus dir er je erwacht?
Nun banne das Bangen,
holder Tod,
sehnend verlangter
In deinen Armen,
dir geweiht,
urheilig Erwarmen,
von Erwachens Not befreit!
Wie sie fassen,
wie sie lassen,
diese Wonne,
Fern der Sonne,
fern der Tage
Ohne Wähnen
sanftes Sehnen;
ohne Bangen
süss Verlangen;
ohne Wehen
hehr Vergehen;
ohne Schmachten
hold Umnachten;
ohne Meiden,
ohne Scheiden,
traut allein,
ewig heim,
in ungemessnen Räumen
übersel'ges Träumen.


O eternal Night,
sweet Night!
Gloriously sublime
Night of love!
Those whom you have embraced,
upon whom you have smiled,
how could they ever waken
without fear?
Now banish dread,
sweet death,
yearned for, longed for
In your arms,
consecrated to you,
sacred elemental quickening force,
free from the peril of waking!
How to grasp it,
how to leave it,
this bliss
far from the sun's,
far from Day's
parting sorrows!
Free from delusion
gentle yearning,
free from fearing
sweet longing.
Free from sighing
sublime expiring.
Free from languishing
enclosed in sweet darkness.
No evasion
no parting,
just we alone,
ever home,
in unmeasured realms
of ecstatic dreams.

Tristan du,
ich Isolde,
nicht mehr Tristan!

Tristan you,
I Isolde,
no longer Tristan.

Du Isolde,
Tristan ich,
nicht mehr Isolde!

You Isolde,
Tristan I,
no longer Isolde!

Ohne Nennen,
ohne Trennen,
neu Erkennen,
neu Entbrennen;
endlos ewig,
heiss erglühter Brust
höchste Liebeslust!

(Sie bleiben in verzückter Stellung)

free from parting,
new perception,
new enkindling;
ever endless
warmly glowing heart,
love's utmost joy!

(They remain in a rapturous embrace)

Die Vorigen. Kurwenal, Brangäne, Marke, Melot und Hofleute.

The previous characters. Kurwenal, Brangaene, Mark, Melot and Courtiers.
(Brangäne stösst einen grellen Schrei aus. Kurwenal stürzt mit entblösstem Schwerte herein) (Brangaene emits a shrill cry. Kurwenal rushes in with unsheathed sword)

Rette dich, Tristan!

Save yourself, Tristan!
(Er blickt mit Entsetzen hinter sich in die Szene zurück. Marke, Melot und Hofleute [in Jägertracht] kommen aus dem Baumgange lebhaft nach dem Vordergrunde und halten entsetzt der Gruppe der Liebenden gegenüber an. Brangäne kommt zugleich von der Zinne herab und stürzt auf Isolde zu. Diese, von unwillkürlicher Scham ergriffen, lehnt sich, mit abgewandtem Gesicht, auf die Blumenbank. Tristan, in ebenfalls unwillkürlicher Bewegung, streckt mit dem einen Arme den Mantel breit aus, so dass er Isolde vor den Blicken der Ankommenden verdeckt. In dieser Stellung verbleibt er längere Zeit, unbeweglich den starren Blick auf die Männer gerichtet, die in verschiedener Bewegung die Augen auf ihn heften. - Morgendämmerung) (Horrified, he casts a glance offstage. Mark, Melot and courtiers in hunting dress come rapidly from the avenue of trees and stop in horror at the sight of the lovers. Brangaene climbs down from the tower and runs to Isolde. Isolde, involuntarily seized by a sense of shame, leans back, her face turned aside, on the flowery bank. Tristan, also in spite of himself, raises his cloak on his arm so that it conceals Isolde from the sight of those just arrived. He remains in this position for a long period, unmoving, his cold gaze fixed on the men who, in various attitudes, fasten their eyes on him. Dawn)
(nach längerem Schweigen)

Der öde Tag
zum letztenmal!
(after a long silence)

Barren Day
for the last time!
(zu Marke)

Das sollst du, Herr, mir sagen,
ob ich ihn recht verklagt?
Das dir zum Pfand ich gab,
ob ich mein Haupt gewahrt?
Ich zeigt' ihn dir
in offner Tat:
Namen und Ehr'
hab ich getreu
vor Schande dir bewahrt.
(to Mark)

Now tell me, my lord,
was I right to accuse him?
To give you my pledge
with my head as the bond?
I have shown him to you
in the very act;
your name and honour
I have loyally
preserved from disgrace.

King Marke's Lament


Tot denn alles!
Alles tot!
Mein Held, mein Tristan!
Trautester Freund,
auch heute noch
musst du den Freund verraten?
Heut', wo er kommt,
dir höchste Treue zu bewähren?
Erwache! Erwache!
Erwache meinem Jammer!

(schluchzend über die Leiche
sich herabbeugend)

Du treulos treuster Freund!

All dead then!
All dead!
My hero, my Tristan!
Most faithful of friends,
must you even today
betray your friend?
Today, when he comes
to avow to you his deepest faith?
Awake! Awake!
Awake! to my wailing!

(Sobbing, he bends
over the bodies)

You faithless, most faithful of friends!
(die in ihren Armen Isolde
wieder zu sich gebracht)

Sie wacht! Sie lebt!
Isolde! hör mich,
vernimm meine Sühne!
Des Trankes Geheimnis
entdeckt' ich dem König:
mit sorgender Eil'
stach er in See,
dich zu erreichen,
dir zu entsagen,
dir zuzuführen den Freund.
(who has brought Isolde
to her senses in her arms)

She wakes! She is alive!
Isolde! Listen to me,
hear my repentance!
The draught's secret
I have revealed to the King;
In anxious haste
he put out to sea
to reach you,
to renounce you,
to lead your beloved to you.

Warum, Isolde,
warum mir das?
Da hell mir enthüllt,
was zuvor ich nicht fassen konnt',
wie selig, dass den Freund
ich frei von Schuld da fand!
Dem holden Mann
dich zu vermählen,
mit vollen Segeln
flog ich dir nach.
Doch Unglückes
wie erreicht es, wer Frieden bringt?
Die Ernte mehrt' ich dem Tod:
der Wahn häufte die Not.

Why, Isolde,
why have you done this?
When it was clearly revealed to me
what I had not been able to comprehend,
how happy I was that I found
my friend free of guilt.
To wed you to
this glorious man
with full sail
I flew after you.
But misfortune's
impetuous haste,
how can the bringer of peace control it?
I increased the harvest of Death,
madness added yet more distress.

Hörst du uns nicht?
Isolde! Traute!
Vernimmst du die Treue nicht?

Can you not hear us?
Isolde! Dearest!
Can you not hear your faithful Brangaene?
(Isolde, die nichts um sich her vernommen, heftet das Auge mit wachsender Begeisterung auf Tristans Leiche) (Isolde, aware of nothing round about her, fixes her gaze with mounting ecstasy upon Tristan's body)

Isolde's Liebestod ("Love-death")


Mild und leise
wie er lächelt,
wie das Auge
hold er öffnet, -
seht ihr's, Freunde?
Säh't ihr's nicht?
Immer lichter
wie er leuchtet,
hoch sich hebt?
Seht ihr's nicht?
Wie das Herz ihm
mutig schwillt,
voll und hehr
im Busen ihm quillt?
Wie den Lippen,
wonnig mild,
süsser Atem
sanft entweht: -
Freunde! Seht!
Fühlt und seht ihr's nicht?
Hör ich nur
diese Weise,
die so wunder-
voll und leise,
Wonne klagend,
alles sagend,
mild versöhnend
aus ihm tönend,
in mich dringet,
auf sich schwinget,
hold erhallend
um mich klinget?
Heller schallend,
mich umwallend,
sind es Wellen
sanfter Lüfte?
Sind es Wogen
wonniger Düfte?
Wie sie schwellen,
mich umrauschen,
soll ich atmen,
soll ich lauschen?
Soll ich schlürfen,
Süss in Düften
mich verhauchen?
In dem wogenden Schwall,
in dem tönenden Schall,
in des Weltatems
wehendem All, -
versinken, -
unbewusst, -
höchste Lust!


How softly and gently
he smiles,
how sweetly
his eyes open -
can you see, my friends,
do you not see it?
How he glows
ever brighter,
raising himself high
amidst the stars?
Do you not see it?
How his heart
swells with courage,
gushing full and majestic
in his breast?
How in tender bliss
sweet breath
gently wafts
from his lips -
Friends! Look!
Do you not feel and see it?
Do I alone hear
this melody
so wondrously
and gently
sounding from within him,
in bliss lamenting,
gently reconciling,
piercing me,
soaring aloft,
its sweet echoes
resounding about me?
Are they gentle
aerial waves
ringing out clearly,
surging around me?
Are they billows
of blissful fragrance?
As they seethe
and roar about me,
shall I breathe,
shall I give ear?
Shall I drink of them,
plunge beneath them?
Breathe my life away
in sweet scents?
In the heaving swell,
in the resounding echoes,
in the universal stream
of the world-breath -
to drown,
to founder -
unconscious -
utmost rapture!
(Isolde sinkt, wie verklärt, in Brangänes Armen sanft auf Tristans Leiche. Grosse Rührung und Entrücktheit, unter den Umstehenden. Marke segnet die Leichen. - Der Vorhang fällt langsam) (Isolde sinks gently, as if transfigured, in Brangaene's arms, on to Tristan's body. Those standing around are awed and deeply moved. Mark blesses the bodies. - The curtain falls slowly)

Libretto taken from Fabrizio Calzaretti's Wagner Page


All text © Todd Tarantino 2002-2012.
Not to be reprinted without permission.