Tristan und Isolde
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  Act 1

Scene 1:

A ship on its way to Cornwall, carries the Irish princess, Lady Isolde. She has been given in marriage to Cornwall’s old King Marke. This political marriage will seal the peace between Cornwall and Ireland. Lord Tristan, faithful vassal of King Marke, escorts princess Isolde to his King.
  Isolde curses her lineage which has degenerated to brewing balsam potions and has lost the art to command sea and storm. She hails nature for a raging storm, so the sea will engulf the ship and death may save her of a humiliating destiny. Brangäne, her maidservant, is startled and asks Isolde for the reason of her anguish.

Scene 2: The front of the tent opens and Isolde's eyes find Lord Tristan, she asks Brangäne, what she thinks of him. Brangäne considers him a valiant hero without equal. Sneering, Isolde orders her, to summon Lord Tristan. Kurwenal, the valet of Lord Tristan, sees Brangäne coming, and warns Lord Tristan. Brangäne conveys Isolde's request to Lord Tristan.

Tristan replies evasively by saying, he serves Isolde always and everywhere, and he has to manage the ship. Brangäne once again, repeats the words of Lady Isolde, whereupon Kurwenal sneers that Lord Tristan is no serf to Lady Isolde. Kurwenal also recalls Tristan's victory over Lord Morold of Ireland, the would-be spouse of Isolde. He came to Cornwall to collect taxes, but Tristan defeated him and sent his head to Ireland.

Scene 3: Grieved, Isolde hears of Tristan's refusal to see her. Kurwenal’s song about Morold has not escaped her and now she recounts of Tristan, who secretly came to her, weak and diseased, to be cured.
  In the war between Cornwall and Ireland, Isolde has lost her fiancé Morold. Tristan killed him but was heavily wounded in that same fight. Isolde, well known for her healing skills, is the one Tristan had to turn to, to keep his life. Tristan poses as Tantris, but was nevertheless recognised by Isolde. From his sword the splinter lacked, which she had found in Morold’s head. Isolde seized the sword to kill Tristan, but was halted by the look in his eyes. Tristan healed physically and returned to the court of his uncle, King Marke.
  Tristan has taken a vow of eternal gratitude and loyalty. However, he returned to Ireland, to win Lady Isolde for his uncle. Isolde wants revenge and desires death for Tristan and herself. Brangäne considers the marriage, that will make Isolde Queen of Cornwall, as Lord Tristan’s gift. As a vassal, he will always be in her proximity. For Isolde this situation is unbearable, to be near the man she loves but cannot have. She orders Brangäne to get the box with potions, her mother gave her. Horrified, Brangäne learns, Isolde wants to use the death-potion. Then they hear the sailors furl the sails; the coast of Cornwall is near.

Scene 4: Kurwenal enters the tent, and urges Isolde and Brangäne to prepare themselves to disembark. Isolde refuses, first Lord Tristan has to ask forgiveness for his unpaid debt. Kurwenal, reluctantly conveys the message to Lord Tristan. As Kurwenal is gone, Isolde orders Brangäne, to prepare the death-potion. In doubt, Brangäne asks for whom the potion is meant. Isolde responds that Tristan will drink the potion, to reconcile his betrayal. Brangäne refuses her cooperation, but Isolde demands obedience. Kurwenal returns and announces Lord Tristan.
  Scene 5: Isolde asks why Tristan did not honour her request, whereupon Tristan replies; tradition requires him to avoid the bride. If Tristan thus honours tradition, why did he not reconcile his debt to Isolde? Tristan knows of no debt and says peace has been sworn between Ireland and Cornwall. Isolde however, means her oath to revenge Morold, but instead she healed Tristan and let him go. Tristan offers his sword, to take revenge for Lord Morold. Isolde tells him to put away his sword and drink a potion of reconciliation. From outside they hear the ship mooring. Isolde spurs Brangäne to bring the potion. Tristan, realising the nature of the potion, puts the cup to his mouth and drinks. Before he can finish, Isolde wrings the cup from his hands and empties it.

Knowing they soon will die, Tristan and Isolde are completely free. Honour and disgrace are no longer important. Intimately they embrace one another and express their love. Brangäne, who watched the ship’s arrival, quickly returns to warn Lady Isolde. She sees Tristan and Isolde in a close embrace, unconscious of their surroundings. Just before the tent opens, Brangäne separates the lovers, and dresses Isolde with the regal robe. Still transfigured, Isolde asks which potion she drank, Brangäne answers: ‘the love potion’. In utter despair, Isolde realises she must live, and faints against Tristan. Trumpets blow, in great expectation King Marke and his retinue await their new Queen.
  Act 2  
Nacht der Liebe
Nacht der Liebe.
  Scene 1: Garden with high trees in front of Isolde’s chamber. A burning torch is attached to the opened door. Isolde listens to the receding sounds of the horns blown by the hunting-party of King Marke. When the hunting-party is far gone, she wants to give Tristan the sign it’s safe, by extinguishing the burning torch. Brangäne warns Isolde of Melot, who will use this hunting-party as a trick to expose Tristan and Isolde. Isolde however trusts Melot, Tristan's loyal friend. She commands Brangäne to extinguish the burning torch. Conscience of her guilt, Brangäne admits her infidelity in preparing the love-potion in stead of the death-potion.
  She feels responsible for the deep shame that will befall her mistress upon exposure. Isolde reproves her naive maidservant; Brangäne did not act on her own accord but only on instruction of ‘Frau Minne’. While Isolde takes the torch, she orders Brangäne to keep watch. Then she throws the burning torch to the ground, where it slowly dies out. Impatiently she awaits Tristan.  
  Scene 2: Burning with desire they passionately embrace. They curse the day for keeping them separated, and praise the night for bringing them together. Gently they lie down on a bed of flowers. May this dream of love last forever.

Brangäne warns that soon the dark will yield to the light, but the lovers do not heed her warning call. They’d rather die, to be forever as one. Once again Brangäne gives her warning; dawn is near, but Tristan and Isolde remain in their ecstatic embrace.

Scene 3: Daybreak. Kurwenal comes rushing in to warn Tristan. But it is already too late; King Marke and his party halt before the two lovers. Tristan covers Isolde with his mantle to protect her from the stares of the arrived men. Deeply grieved and saddened by the betrayal of his most faithful servant, Marke addresses Tristan with the question: ‘Why this treason?’. As his own son he has treated Tristan. Moreover, Tristan himself insisted on the wedlock between Marke and Isolde.

Tristan cannot answer. He turns to Isolde and asks if she wants to follow him to the land of night, from which he was given birth by his dying mother. Isolde answers she cannot escape the land that spans the world itself, and asks Tristan to lead the way. Tristan tenderly kisses Isolde's brow. Melot furiously draws his sword, to revenge this outrage. Tristan draws his sword in defense and presses in on Melot. Tristan let's himself fall into Melot's sword, and deadly wounded sinks into the arms of Kurwenal.
  Act 3  
Scene 1: Tristan lies dying on his bed in the citadel of his youth, Karéol. The faithful Kurwenal has saved him from Melot and escaped with a fast ship to the fatherland. Tristan is still unconscious and Kurwenal hopes for a first sign of life. Kurwenal has sent for Isolde, she alone can heal Tristan.

Outside, a shepherd watches the sea to look for Isolde's ship. On his flute he plays a sad melody. When Kurwenal asks if there is a ship in sight, he answers negatively. He will announce Isolde's ship with a cheerful melody. Kurwenal concerns himself with Tristan again, to see if there is still life in him.
  Suddenly Tristan regains consciousness, awoken by the sad melody of the shepherd's flute. A jubilant Kurwenal tells him where he is and what has happened. Tristan answers, he was in the land of Night, realm of divine eternal oblivion. Already he heard the doors of death closing behind him, but he had to go back to the cursed land of Day, because of Isolde.

Kurwenal tells Tristan he has sent for Isolde. She will come to him on a ship, sailed by a loyal captain. Rejoicing, Tristan embraces his faithful mentor and thanks him for his loyal friendship. As in a vision, Tristan imagines the ship of Isolde, but the shepherd plays his plaintive melody. Tristan remembers how this same melody once announced, to the unborn child, his father's death. And again when his mother died, during his birth. Delirious with raging pains, Tristan loses consciousness. When he slowly comes back to life, he asks if Isolde's ship is in sight and sends Kurwenal on the lookout. Then the shepherd plays a cheerful melody, and full of joy Kurwenal leaps up. He searches the sea and sees the ship approaching. Impatiently, Tristan sends Kurwenal to the port to help Isolde.

Scene 2: Tristan rises from his bed and in supreme exaltation jerks off the bandage from his wound, which violently starts to bleed. The approaching Isolde will heal the wound forever. Tristan staggers towards her and blissfully falls into her arms, where he dies with her name on his lips. Isolde realises she is too late, Tristan has gone ahead. Then she hears Tristan awaken and falls unconscious on his dead body.

Scene 3: Deeply dismayed Kurwenal watches his master die. The shepherd wakes Kurwenal from his sad lethargy to warn for a second ship in sight. Kurwenal recognises the ship of King Marke, together with the shepherd he tries to barricade the gate. The steersman rushes in to report his men were overwhelmed by King Marke. From outside Brangäne calls Isolde, her mistress. Kurwenal accuses her of treason and makes preparations for the defence of Karéol. Melot appears in the gate, without hesitation Kurwenal rushes towards Melot and kills him. Brangäne calls for Kurwenal to calm down, he's making a terrible mistake. Kurwenal is unstoppable and defies the enemy; only death awaits them. Kurwenal with his men wage a bloody fight against the men of King Marke. When King Marke with his retinue appears, the fight has been fought. Kurwenal is heavily wounded, and dies at Tristan's feet.

Deeply saddened, King Marke overlooks the battlefield, so much death by deceit and delusion. In deep mourning he bends over to Tristan's body. Brangäne has Isolde in her arms, she slowly regains consciousness. Brangäne informs Isolde, she told King Marke about the love potion. Full of happiness, by the innocence of Tristan and Isolde, the King tried to catch up with Isolde to give her in marriage to Tristan. However, misfortune was more swift.

Isolde, completely unconscious of her surroundings, is focussed on Tristan. Slowly and exalted she sinks away in the world-breath of eternity.
Wehendem All.
  In dem wogenden Schwall, 
in dem tönenden Schall,
in des Welt-Atems wehendem All -
ertrinken . . .
versinken . . .
unbewußt . . .
höchste Lust!
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