Archives For Richard Wagner

Tristan and Isolde

October 4, 2020 — 36 Comments

Ahh! – What a treat to be surrounded by the wonderful sensations of live music as a listener again. On Saturday George and I excitedly attended the inaugural performance held by The London Opera Company at The Warehouse in Waterloo, London. There we heard a chamber concert performance of Wagner’s opera Tristan and Isolde. This particular opera is around 5 hours long, split into three acts. A stamina test for both the ear and the buttocks. With this in mind, I was wondering how the company would put on the performance safely under the current pandemic.

Before the performance:

The company smartly decided to have electronic tickets to remove the need for ticket stubs to be collected upon entry. Along with the online ticket, we were provided with a few instructions to make our participation as safe as possible for ourselves, the combined group of spectators, and the performers. We were given a period of time, at which we could enter the theatre to take our seats. For example, George and I were given 14:45-15:00. By splitting the entry of the audience members into groups, it meant that foot traffic was moderated and allowed for safe social distancing. Audience members were encouraged to wear masks upon entry and during the performance.

The seating area was split into seating arrangements of 1 and 2 people. The clusters of seats were evenly scattered across the floor into eight rows (A-H), with perhaps a total of around 30 audience members. The audience looked like stars in the night sky, all fizzing with pre-show excitement building to a wonderful atmosphere ready for the performance to begin.

During the Performance:

Tristan and Isolde is an orchestral passion, and can usually require a large number of instrumentalists to perform alongside the singers. This particular performance was an arrangement written for Piano, Violin, and Cello. Jonathan Musgrave (Piano), James Widden (Violin), and Alison Holford (Cello). I really enjoyed listening to this musical adaptation as it showcased some very intimate moments, such as the dazzling love duet in Act Two between Tristan (Brian Smith Walters) and Isolde (Cara McHardy). This musical ensemble certainly got my brain ticking, as George regularly performs in a piano trio with the Chloe Trio. Perhaps in the future, we could be inspired to put on an opera accompanied by a small ensemble too!

After the instrumental introduction, the singers soon began to enter the stage. They would appear to sing their musical parts, explore and progress the story from strategically placed music stands. These were spaced to allow for safety but the chemistry fizzed between Isolde and Tristan despite the 2-3 meters distance. There was no physical contact between singers, no props or scenery. The company did provide a translation, which was clearly projected onto a screen alongside the performance. This helped immensely with an understanding of the story and the intricacies of the musical motifs and melodies.

It was great to see my friends from previous productions take to the stage. I’ve worked with Jonathan Cooke at the RCS, Jonathan Musgrave and Brian Smith Walters on Candide, and Louis Hurst on Much Ado About Nothing. It was exciting to hear such dramatic voices come together to create a vibrant collective, which sent shivers down my spine.

I was really excited that this musical event was allowed to happen and it has been a joy to see more musical spectacles emerge in the UK over the last few months. I hope that these safety measures can allow more to happen and that I can return to the stage soon!

I have been researching “Der Ring des Nibelungen” the cycle of four operas by German composer Richard Wagner and have been enthralled by them.

Richard Wagner

Richard Wagner

I have always enjoyed studying German song especially Lieder, German art songs from the 19th century romantic period.  I find the interplay between the pianist and the singer captivating as each depends on the other in a way that can be quite unique to this genre of music.

One of my favourite composers of Lied, the German word for song, is Richard Strauss and I find myself getting emotionally drawn in to his songs.  Richard Strauss was born in Munich, Germany on the 11th June 1864.  Having a father that was a principal horn player at the Munich Court Opera ensured a passionate music education which resulted in Strauss completing his first composition at the age of 6.

Richard Strauss Aged 22

Richard Strauss Aged 22

In 1874 at the age of 10 he was introduced to the operas of Wagner and though the works were frowned upon at the time by his father they would go on to have a profound influence on Strauss’s work.

Following a brief period at the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich where he studied Philosophy and Art History he left to take up his first conducting position.  He was taken under the wing of the renowned German conductor Hans von Bulow at the Meiningen orchestra.  At the age of just 21 Strauss went on to become the principal conductor of the Meiningen orchestra when Hans von Bulow resigned in 1885.

Pauline de Anna Strauss

Pauline de Anna Strauss

Richard Strauss married Pauline de Anna in September 1894 who was acclaimed to be the inspiration of many of his works.  I think that it is these emotions in his pieces that help me to connect with them.  “Zueignung” meaning  ‘Dedication’ is a beautiful song composed by Strauss, it is taken from a poem by Hermann von Gilm zu Rosenegg which Strauss lovingly set to music.

Ja, du weißt es, teure Seele,
Daß ich fern von dir mich quäle,
Liebe macht die Herzen krank,
Habe Dank.

[Hielt ich nicht]1, der Freiheit Zecher,
Hoch den Amethysten-Becher,
Und du segnetest den Trank,
Habe Dank.

Und beschworst darin die Bösen,
Bis ich, was ich nie gewesen,
[Heilig an das Herz]2 dir sank,
Habe Dank.

The translation provided by Lawrence Snyder :

Yes, you know it, dearest soul,
How I suffer far from you,
Love makes the heart sick,
Have thanks.

Once I, drinker of freedom,
Held high the amethyst beaker,
And you blessed the drink,
Have thanks.

And you exorcised the evils in it,
Until I, as I had never been before,
Blessed, blessed sank upon your heart,
Have thanks.

This is a video of my performance of this beautiful song from the “Voice of The Future” competition at the Llangollen International Eisteddfod in the summer of 2014. I also managed to record this to go on my album “Canzoni D’Amore”. The header photo of George Todica and me was taken by my Nana the day before the grand finale in Llangollen.

Richard Strauss  Time Magazine 1938

Richard Strauss Time Magazine 1938

Strauss was a prolific composer and wrote many works including solo instrument and orchestra, fabulous Lieder and several Operas until his death in September 1949. I cannot wait to explore more of his repertoire in the years to come including some of his most famous opera roles like that of Salome.


Richard Strauss – Salome Poster – 1910

If you are familiar with any of his works I would love to read what you think and if you have any suggestions regarding songs of his that I could explore then I would appreciate to hear from you :).