Washington National Opera: Tristan and Isolde

Sunday, September 15, 2013 - Friday, September 27, 2013

In Wagner's retelling of the beloved Celtic myth and its star-crossed lovers, Iréne Theorin--well known to DC audiences and Wagner aficionados--brings her compelling portrayal of Isolde to a production featuring an impressive international cast.


$25.00 - $300.00

Run Time:

4 hours, 35 minutes

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Richard Wagner's
Tristan and Isolde

Libretto by the composer
Production from Opera Australia
Isolde, a beautiful Irish maiden with magical powers, is riding the high seas to marry her betrothed, the King of Cornwall. But first she must avenge the death of her former fiancé by killing Tristan, a dashing knight and nephew of the king. When the poison she concocts turns out to be a love potion, her vengeful ire and his bold betrayal are suddenly transformed into rapturous, unbridled passion. As the royal wedding approaches, Tristan and Isolde can only find comfort under cover of night. Yet even the darkness cannot hide their desires for long.

Well known to Washington audiences and Wagner aficionados, soprano Iréne Theorin brings her compelling portrayal of Isolde to a stunning production that celebrates the bicentenary of Wagner's birth with direction by Neil Armfield, who will also direct Opera Australia's first production of Wagner's Ring cycle later this fall. Conducted by WNO Music Director Philippe Auguin, and featuring an impressive international cast, Wagner's retelling of the beloved Celtic myth and its star-crossed lovers continues to enchant audiences across the globe.

Casting Update: Deborah Voigt, originally scheduled to perform the role of Isolde, has regrettably withdrawn from the production. Internationally renowned Swedish soprano Iréne Theorin will now sing the performances on September 15, 18, 21, and 24. British soprano Alwyn Mellor, making her WNO debut, will sing the final performance on September 27.

"Iréne Theorin delivered Isolde's final waves of sonic ecstasy in great lava flows of sound."
(Dallas Morning News)

Tristan: Ian Storey; Clifton Forbis (Sep. 27)
Isolde: Iréne Theorin; Alwyn Mellor (Sep. 27)
Brangäne: Elizabeth Bishop
Kurwenal: James Rutherford
King Marke: Wilhelm Schwinghammer

Conductor: Philippe Auguin
Director: Neil Armfield
Costume Designer: Jennie Tate
Lighting Designer: Toby Sewell

Performed in German with projected English titles. Titles may not be visible from the rear of the orchestra.


Musicologist Saul Lilienstein leads the Friday, Sep. 27 Opera Insight, starting 1 hour and 15 minutes before the performance and lasting 35–40 minutes. All other Opera Insights start 1 hour before the performance and last 20–25 minutes.
Informative and entertaining, Opera Insights take you inside the composer's mind, behind the scenes of planning a production, and into the history and social context of each opera.
These lectures are free, but patrons must present a ticket from any performance of Tristan and Isolde.
--Sep. 15 at 1 p.m.: Ken Weiss, music administrator
--Sep. 18 at 5 p.m.: Ken Weiss
--Sep. 21 at 5 p.m.: Andrew Jorgensen, director of artistic planning
--Sep. 24 at 5 p.m.: Andrew Joegensen
--Sep. 27 at 4:45 p.m.: Saul Lilienstein

Following this performance:
Sunday matinee, September 15
Join WNO artists for a unique opportunity to ask questions about the production.
All discussions begin immediately after the performance and are free with your ticket.


Performance Timing: Act I - 80 min.; Intermission - 25 min.; Act II - 66 min.; Intermission - 25 min.; Act III - 76 min. (4 hours, 35 minutes)

Synopsis for WNO Tristan and Isolde

Act I


Isolde, a defeated Irish princess, is aboard a ship to Cornwall, where she will be forced to marry King Marke. The King's nephew, Tristan, has been charged with delivering the princess, who is overwhelmed with fury about her humiliation. She cannot forget that Tristan killed her betrothed, and that, posing as "Tantris," he came to her to have his battle wounds healed. Although she recognized him then, she was unable to bring herself to kill him; now, she is determined they both should die. Telling her maid, Brangäne, to bring Tristan to her, Isolde prepares a death potion. Tristan accepts her challenge and drinks; Isolde then drains the cup. However, Brangäne has substituted a love potion, and the two are quickly overcome with passion.

Intermission (25 minutes)

Act II

At King Marke's castle, Isolde awaits Tristan. Although King Marke is away on a hunt, Brangäne suspects Tristan's friend, Melot, of setting a trap for the lovers. Isolde will not hear it; she sends Brangäne to keep watch while she meets Tristan. The two come together ecstatically, but are interrupted by Marke, Melot and the other courtiers. Marke is astonished and aggrieved at Tristan's betrayal; his nephew has no response. Instead, Tristan invites Isolde to follow him into death, and she agrees. When Melot draws his sword, Tristan allows himself to be wounded.

Intermission (25 minutes)


Tristan's servant, Kurwenal, tending his gravely injured master, asks a shepherd to keep watch for Isolde. As Tristan momentarily regains consciousness, he looks forward to reuniting with his lover. When the shepherd finally signals the arrival of Isolde's ship, Tristan tears the bandages from his wounds. He dies in her arms just as a second ship arrives: Marke has come to yield Isolde to Tristan, but before the King can explain, Kurwenal strikes Melot dead, then receives his own mortal wound at the hands of Marke's followers. As Marke bewails the events, Isolde, transfigured, sings her great "Liebestod," expressing the transcendent power of the highest, most complete love, as she sinks down on Tristan's body and joins him in death.


-Kelley Rourke

Watch and Listen

WNO Commentary: Tristan and Isolde 1 of 6: Introduction and Prelude (audio only)

WNO Commentary: Tristan and Isolde 2 of 6: Act One: At sea, Tristan's ship (audio only)

WNO Commentary: Tristan and Isolde 3 of 6: Wagner's erotic dream (audio only)

WNO Commentary: Tristan and Isolde 4 of 6: Act Two: At King Mark's castle (audio only)

WNO Commentary: Tristan and Isolde 5 of 6: The influence of Tristan and Isolde (audio only)

WNO Commentary: Tristan and Isolde 6 of 6: Act Three: At Tristan's castle in Brittany (audio only)

Tristan and Isolde Clip

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