We are culture!
We are culture!
One man, one woman, entwined by a deep love of mysterious origin. In their lives they feel that nothing is real apart from this love. But it is nothing they can touch, nothing that offers fulfilment under the rules of the real world, on the contrary: the two lovers are bound to others. But their feelings are so strong that they press another dimension into existence and develop a parallel world in which their destiny unfolds to its tragic conclusion. What, then, is real life? “Is our material world only a shell, a deception or even an experiment following a matrix-like experimental arrangement?” wonders director Günther Groissböck as he undertakes a theatrical attempt to put the feelings that the two lovers have for one another to the test. What remains for all eternity is the imaginary alternative to a bourgeois life that prevents love. The lovers see themselves reflected in a couple from the distant past: When Tristan brings Isolde, the Irish king’s daughter, over the sea for Cornwall’s King Marke the two have long been tacit lovers. Tristan had killed Isolde’s betrothed, Morold, in battle. But Isolde had poisoned Morold’s sword and he had managed to wound Tristan with it. Tristan then came to Isolde, calling himself Tantris, and she tended the stranger. Soon, however, she recognised him as the man who murdered her betrothed and wanted to kill him. But when she looked into his eyes she began to love him. She did not doubt that he loved her too and so was deeply hurt when he began to try to win her for Marke instead of for himself. Consequently, she wants to kill herself and Tristan. But in place of the poison, her maid Brangäne gives her a love potion. Instead of dying, Tristan and Isolde are overwhelmed by the depth and truth of their love. Reality is nevertheless stronger: Isolde marries Marke, but has no choice but to continue her love affair with Tristan. At some point, Marke catches the couple unawares. Tristan desperately signals to Isolde that he will embrace death if she follows him. Isolde agrees and Tristan falls on his sword, slowly fades away and dies at last in her arms. When Marke comes to forgive her it is too late: Isolde dies over Tristan’s dead body.
Richard Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, perhaps the most groundbreaking work in the history of music, had its origins in the composer’s own life: he and Mathilde Wesendonck, his patron’s wife, were hopelessly and passionately in love. The strength of his love became a source of inspiration and so in turn serves as an indicator of the creative force that not only engenders life itself, but also enables us as human beings to go on and produce achievements and works of art that are larger than life. Wagner was aware of this. While he was working he wrote to Mathilde: “I’m in the second act still, but what music it’s becoming! I could work my whole life long at this music alone. O, it grows deep and fair, and the sublimest marvels fit so supply to the sense. I have never made a thing like this! But I also am melting away in this music; I'll hear of no more, when it's finished. In it will I live for aye.”* What, then, is stronger and more true? The feelings heightened to everlastingness in the imagination or imperfect but tangible reality? The imaginary events play out in the Middle Ages, but the lovers are defeated – like Richard and Mathilde – by 19th-century morals. In 1786, Mozart had shown the emergence of this bourgeois morality in a positive light in Le nozze di Figaro. In 1857, Wagner’s work exposes its shortcomings when faced with the eternal force of love. Forced into the subconscious, its allegedly sinful desires disturb the peace of mind with disastrous consequences. With his opera, Wagner provides a vivid testimony to the age he lived in, long before Freud began scientifically exploring the darkest recesses of the psyche. Our Tristan Experiment focuses on love’s creative power and those mechanisms of the human psyche. For this experiment, conductor Hartmut Keil and the world-renowned bass Günther Groissböck – making his directorial debut – have developed a Viennese chamber version for five soloists and twenty musicians that enables the director to take a precise look into the protagonists’ heads, to evoke the existential quest between the heart and the head and to assign the work its proper place in the history of the bourgeois psyche.
* Richard Wagner to Mathilde Wesendonck, transl. William Ashton Ellis, London: H. Grevel & Co, 1905