Wagner was a difficult and contradictory Man. His endless talking about his work and himself,he admitted did cause him problems. When not composing he would write about everything, which he thought worked off his spleen.So, there are those who attempt to divorce the Man from his music. You cannot. They are both intertwined. But his hard life and suffering,obviously caused by deep psychological problems, did enable him like some shamanic figure to delve deep within, reaching another dimension. For example,Sitting Bull of Custer last stand fame, could go into trances to foretell the future via rituals of suffering. Wagner was able to go into another world, and create music of other worldly quality.His libretto's had a certain logic to them, as did his music which had a sure hand. He could not hold onto money,no matter how much he borrowed. He was a wanderer with a dream, which he succeeded in delivering.Even when settled with Cosima and his family in Bayreuth, he did venture with them to Italy. A German nationalist, who thought he created Germanic Myths for a new Germany. But he admitted to Lizst, that even he ,Wagner, did not really understand what he had written. About Tristan he wrote, I do not know how I wrote it.
In Zurich 1857, he was given a house by Otto Wesendonk, which was next door to him. He had an affair with his wife Mathilde. Wagners wife Minna found out about it, and because of the fuss had to leave.Moving to Venice he continued with Tristan and finished the work in Vienna March 1859.In 1864 in Munich, he came under the wing of his admirer King Ludwig the second. His troubles should have been over. They only begun.The first performance of this work was held at the Munich state opera on the 10th march 1865.
While living in Zurich 1n 1852, when he wrote to Liszt,he mentioned Schopenhauer and his planned Tristan. Schopenhauer was greatly influenced by Buddhism and Hindu Brahmanism.His philosophy is this, "the wills free denial of itself. This entails the denial of representations and of the world as representation:hense, the resultant nothingness is a positive gain compared to the misery of existence prior to the will denying itself. Music he wrote does not copy ideas;it is an expression of the will itself" (D. Hamlyn Routledge 1980 ).In otherwords, the denial of self and renunciation of individuality. Naturally, this is certainly not Wagners life style. However,when his life was at his lowest ebb, he could write the Libretto of the Meistersingers. He could go into another dimension. When he returned, his psychlogical baggage kicked in. This happens when one is distance running. I know, I was a ultra runner for 18 years, running distances over 161 kms.You go into another world of peace and time stands still.
Let us look at the Libretto of Tristan. He sings in the love duet, "Spiteful day. Its idle pomp,its vainglorious show,is derided by the man whose sight has been blessed by night. The illusions of Day renown and reputation, power and profit, so magnificently glittering disperse like barren particles in the sun before the Man who looks with love upon nights death." Tristan and isolde" O sink down upon me, night of love, make me forget I am alive, take me up to your bosom, set me free of the world."(Cochrane 1961). Once one understands that this is not gibberish, but is Wagners attempt to portray the astral planes. The word astral is mentioned in Turnbulls excellent lecture. In do I hear the light, Aeschlimann set designer of the womb like space on the stage, refers to Buddhism. Lehnhoff refers to the setting of the plot as the soul. For the ship, garden and castle do not require scenic representation.The love duet is coloured by a deep cobalt blue. This symbolises the night,the soul. The day is grey,everyday life. The idea is that Tristan and isolde both enter Nirvana. Where there is nothingness,no rebirth, unless like Buddha, you choose to.Gained when there is no desire,nor materialistic values. Possibly, Wagner misunderstood this state, and saw it as eternal love, without the physical lust.
Wagner did write a sketch for die Sieger,based on an incident in Buddhas life while first reading Schopenhauers philosophy. Which he read and reread.He rewrote the ending to Gotterdammerung, when Brunnhilde sings her last aria. He changed it later on. "to the holiest chosen land,free from desire and delusion,the goal of world wandering,redeemed from rebirth,the enlightened one now goes." (Millington 1992 Thames and Hudson pg 298). In Parsival, in the libretto, the word reincarnation is mentioned. So is the rebirths that Kundry has. Millington writes that in a letter to Liszt 7 june 1855,"modern research has shown that Christianity is no more and no less than a branch of that venerable Buddhist religion which following Alexanders Indian campaign, found its way, among other places, to the shores of the mediterranean".An interesting idea. I hope that this article shows Wagners later operas in a different light. That Tristan and Parsival can be understood.
Although, ten minutes of Act two are cut, still I give it five stars.It has attempted to capture the inner and spiritual side of Tristan.It is not just a story about a woman who hated tristan for killing her beloved. Then looks into his eyes when he is wounded in the fight, as she is about to kill him. When well, he arranges for her to marry his King, Marke.She wants to die with Tristan, so she give him a death potion. But Brangaena gives them a love potion.Hense,they immediately have sex. The love duet, if you can call that, is the sexual act put to music. Eventually at the end of Act three they do die. She sees his ghost,because he dies first. Nina Stemme is brilliant as Isolde. Gambill is quite good as Tristan. Not as good as Jerusalem in the same part,who is. Brangane holds her own. Bo Skovius and rene Pape are a credit to the opera. The London Phil conducted by Jiri Belohlavek is one of the reasons why this is such a great performance. Jiri speeds are right for this piece, swift tempi when required. He keeps the piece tight. Another good performance in the five star bracket, is the Tristan staged by Heiner Muller in 1995. Inspired by Mondrians formalism and Rothko's abstractions.Mullers view is, that no one wants to die. The singing of Jerusalem,Meier,as Isolde,Holle, Priew and Struckmann are perfect. The conductor is Barenboim who brings into place his Furtwangler leanings. Very Beautiful. Get both if you can. The traditionalists will find these DVD's to their taste.