"Tristan und Isolde" director’s notes
16 Feb 2015Sofia Opera and Ballet

"Tristan und Isolde" director’s notes

Assuming Wagner’s statement that he does not write operas but dramas, “Tristan und Isolde”, fits exactly in his creative life and biography as his personal and genuine emotional drama. With this work, the Maestro defined his philosophy in reaching the supreme impulse and meaning of life, with the insight that only through love and within love a man can find himself.

The music and lyrics of “Tristan und Isolde” spring from the most intimate fibers of experienced heartaches. Like living shadows, out of an unrealized dream of love oblivion, passionately and without fear, our characters fly off into their space made of dreams and emotions of illusory happiness.

The delusion of their stellar love journey is not sinful. With their ardent fiery flight from reality, the road of their life leads them from an inseparable love to their choice in flight to happiness in death.
So they save themselves and their love.

As in no other opera, here with Wagner the leading heroine does not die. She is transformed into light, which is the realm of the eternal and most true love. Carrying away with her her favorite creature to ever be together and live
together forever.

With the last bars of the score, the finale of the performance, we see the image of love in the allegory for cosmic happiness.

The complex philosophy of Richard Wagner’s poetic masterpiece I sought to realize in a fully understandable, emotional, dynamic and highly expressive musical and theatrical language. Wagner himself wanted to see on stage the theatre of his music. Notwithstanding the extreme requirement for the vocal stamina of singers, no lesser condition is that they have to be great actors.

Looking from the score of “Tristan und Isolde” towards the creation of its image on the stage, in the director’s interpretation and the development
of the roles with the artists, it is natural to recognize the understanding that Wagner’s musical poetic mystery of Tristan and Isolde is absolutely in compliance with the philosophy of
Schopenhauer. Here are some lines from his thoughts “On the Metaphysics of Music”:

The music of an opera, as presented in the score, has a wholly independent, separate, and as it were abstract existence by itself, to which the incidents and characters of the piece are foreign, and which follows its own unchangeable rules; it can therefore be completely effective even without the text. But as this music was composed with respect to the drama, it is, so to
speak, the soul of this, since, in its connexion with the incidents, characters, and words, it becomes the expression of the inner significance of all those incidents, and of their ultimate and
secret necessity that rests on this significance. It is on the obscure feeling of this that the spectator’s pleasure really depends, unless he
is a mere gaper. Yet in opera, music shows its heterogeneous nature and its superior intrinsic virtue by its complete indifference to everything material in the incidents; and in consequence
of this, it expresses the storm of the passions and the pathos of the feelings everywhere in the same way, and accompanies these with the
same pomp of its tones, whether Agamemnon and Achilles or the dissensions of an ordinary
family furnish the material of the piece. For only the passions, the movements of the will, exist for it, and, like God, it sees only the heart.
(Arthur Schopenhauer, “The World as Will and Representation”, Volume 2)

In this context, the deeply philosophical side of Richard Wagner’s music is the task of the directing: to paint in images the beautiful and the sublime through the music and the poetry in the
space of the stage, to tell the viewer and listener in the most natural way an enticing romantic tale of love revived from an ancient legend.

I might have tried a little bit too much by introducing a small prologue of the back-story, before the overture, before we see with the first bars of the first act in Wagner’s opera the Irish princess
Isolde on the ship, on the way to her unwanted wedding with the Cornish King Marke.

In the genesis of the back-story the action takes place first in Ireland, where she saved from death a foreigner – the knight Tristan, and strongly felt a longing for him. In the opera we directly see Isolde already forcibly on board the ship to Brittany; severely wounded by the insult, she hysterically suffers. For the deceit she has decided to take revenge on the traitor, whom however she still
loves and always, until the end of her life, will be doomed to be only his.

I am grateful to my wonderful colleagues: Martin Iliev, Peter Svensson, Radostina Nikolaeva, Tsvetana Bandalovska Mariana Zvetkova,
Bayasgalan Dashnyam, Tsveta Sarambelieva, Angel Hristov, Petar Buchkov, Veselin Mihaylov, Daniel Ostretsov, Biser Georgiev. Atanas
Mladenov, Krasimir Dinev, Plamen Papazikov, Anton Radev, Nikolai Petrov. Sparing no effort in the difficult mise-en-scène and with true devotion, they worked to achieve the necessary
dramatic expressiveness and acting acrobatics. Naturally, first of all, bow to their talent to meet the requirements of the vocal complexity. This is a joint result, for which we attach great merit to their musical training by the tireless pianist-accompanist Richard Trimborn, who worked with them for a whole year, as well as the pianists Milen Stanev and Yolanta Smolyanova, the conductor Velizar Genchev and the leading conductor of the production Constantin Trinks.

Appreciation for the professionalism of Miodrag Tabacki and Leo Kulas, of the technical services and workshops, which produced the decor and the costumes, and to the assistants Vera Petrova
and Yulia Krasteva and all the staff in our solid directorial team to create the first “Tristan” on the Bulgarian national opera stage.

Plamen Kartaloff
February, 2015