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The Tristan Mysteries: Web Exclusives

You don't have to be a hard-core afficianado to have a little fun with Wagner: explore The Tristan Project, browse our Tristan Timeline and even download a Tristan Chord ringtone!

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Tristan Project: Video Art by Bill Viola (Kira Perov)

The Tristan Project

Wagner in the 21st century

The Tristan Project is a multimedia arts experience designed around Wagner's epic five-hour opera Tristan und Isolde. The work has been visually re-imagined for the 21st century in this concert production from celebrated video artist Bill Viola, artistic collaborator Peter Sellars, and Salonen, who conducts the Los Angeles Philharmonic and a cast of outstanding singers, including soprano Christine Brewer, tenor Alan Woodrow, bass John Relyea, and mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter.


Tristan ringtone Tristan Chord Ringtone
If your phone supports mp3 or windows media (wma) ringtones, you can download one of these files and transfer it to your phone.
music_tristan_tone.mp3 (186 KB)
tristan_chord.wma (107 KB)

Tristan Animation Tristan the Movie
Enjoy Wagner's opera, Tristan and Isolde in 5 animated, interactive episodes from the Philharmonia Sound Exchange.

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Did You Know?

  • Ludwig Schnorr von Carolsfeld sang the role of Tristan at the 1865 Munich premiere (his wife Malvina sang Isolde). Six weeks later Ludwig suddenly died, prompting speculation that the demands of the role had killed him.
  • Claude Debussy's popular piano piece Golliwog's Cakewalk quotes the "Tristan Chord."
  • The music publishing firm Breitkopf & Härtel insisted that Wagner write each act of Tristan to completion before beginning the next, so they could release it more quickly to the public.
  • Wagner considered introducing the character of Parsifal in Act 3, but ultimately rejected the idea. Parsifal later became Wagner's last opera.
  • The medieval poet Hans Sachs wrote a version of the Tristan story. In Wagner's opera Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, the character of Hans Sachs mentions his version of Tristan.
  • In the 1952 Furtwängler recording of Tristan that features Kirsten Flagstad as Isolde, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf actually sings Isolde's high Cs in the second act (Flagstad was 57 at the time and approaching the end of her legendary career).
  • Giacomo Puccini made a strange personal note in his sketches for the final duet in Turandot: "then Tristan." Nobody knows what he had in mind (he died before finishing it).
  • Bernard Herrmann's score for Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo is directly inspired by Isolde's famous "Liebestod" (Love-death), which ends Wagner's opera.
  • T. S. Eliot uses direct quotes from Tristan und Isolde in his epic poem The Waste Land.

A Tristan Timeline

A Brief History of Tristan-Related Events

tristan timeline
c.1185 Thomas of Britain composes the earliest extant version (incomplete) in Anglo-Norman French verse, although the tale is believed to be of Celtic origin.
c.1210 Gottfried von Straßburg writes a German version of the medieval romance based on the text of Thomas.
1857 Wagner sets aside Der Ring des Nibelungen to begin composing Tristan und Isolde in earnest, drawing on von Straßburg and the philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer to create his libretto.
1862 Wagner creates a concert orchestral version of Tristan's Prelude und Liebestod, performing it a full three years before the premiere of the actual opera.
1865 First performance of Tristan und Isolde (June 10) at Königliches Hof-und Nationaltheater, Munich, Hans von Bülow conducting.
Tristan: Ludwig Schnorr von Carolsfeld
Isolde: Malvina Schnorr von Carolsfeld
Brangäne: Anna Possart-Deinet
Kurwenal: Anton Mitterwurzer
König Marke: Ludwig Zottmayer
Melot: Karl Samuel Heinrich
1868 Critic Eduard Hanslick writes that Tristan's prelude "reminds me of the old Italian painting of a martyr whose intestines are slowly unwound from his body on a reel." That same year Wagner creates a scathing parody of Hanslick with the role of Beckmesser in his opera Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg.
1882 United Kingdom Premiere (June 20) at Drury Lane in London.
1883 Austrian Premiere (October 4) in Vienna. Wagner had intended to give Tristan its world premiere there twenty years earlier, but the project was abandoned when the tenor couldn't learn the role.
1886 United States Premiere (December 1) at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City.
1888 Italian Premiere (June 2) in Bologna.
1890 French Premiere (February 6) in Strasbourg.
1898 Russian Premiere (March 25) in St. Petersburg.
1901 Egyptian Premiere in Cairo. That same year Lionel Mapleson records excerpts of Tristan in live performance at the Metropolitan Opera on cylinder—the earliest known "recordings" of Wagner's opera.
1909 The story makes its first appearance on the silver screen in the silent movie Tristan et Yseult (France).
1912 South African Premiere (March) in Johannesburg.
1927 Becomes the first Wagner opera to be performed at the San Francisco Opera.
1934 Romanian Premiere in Bucharest.
1935 First full performance (albeit with several cuts in the score) is recorded, from a live Metropolitan Opera broadcast featuring Lauritz Melchior and Kirsten Flagstad.
1943 Jean Cocteau writes the screenplay for the Tristan-inspired L'Èternel retour (The Eternal Return), directed by Jean Delannoy (the film is controversial for its "Nazi" overtones).
1950 The first complete recording of Tristan und Isolde—without cuts—is released: a live performance from Munich conducted by Hans Knappertsbusch.
1952 Wilhelm Furtwängler conducts his landmark recording of Tristan und Isolde, the only commercial release to feature legendary Wagnerian soprano Kirsten Flagstad.
1966 Bayreuth performance with conductor Karl Böhm (featuring Birgit Nilsson) is released on LP—considered another milestone in recording history.
1981 Sir Richard Burton portrays King Mark in the movie adaptation Lovespell by Tom Donovan. French director François Truffaut also releases his own updating of the Tristan story, La Femme d'á côtè (The Woman Next Door).
1997 Bollywood legend Subhash Ghai transfers Tristan to modern India and the United States in his musical film Pardes.
2004 Conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen teams up with director Peter Sellars and video artist Bill Viola to create The Tristan Project with the Los Angeles Philharmonic at Walt Disney Hall—a "multi-discipline arts experience" that presents one semi-staged act per night along with works that could not have existed without Wagner's original opera.