What happens on stage in opera is mostly not as important as what happens in the music. The music is telling you the real story.
On stage, characters might only be having a bit of a cuddle, but the music reveals much more is going on under the covers.
The music of Act II is the emotional core of Tristan and Isolde. It grows organically from the Tristan chord right at the very start. It’s the only time this star-crossed couple are alone, can declare the love they must not have, the love they know will kill them, the love so impossible it can only manifest at night. In the dark. Or in death.
It’s erotic to the bone – or it would be, literally, if not for the way it ends.
Think Romeo and Juliet. Think Romeo and Juliet, except a love that was much more inconceivable – and those two at least had the full night together (“is that the lark?”). And they were never interrupted right. At. The. Crucial. Moment.
Coitus interuptus has never sounded so sumptuous.
After all the angst of the first six minutes 30 seconds, listen to the way the ‘act’ almost happens. The rising, and rising , and rising, and …
Here’s the always magnificent Waltraud Meier making musical love to (an unfortunately inert) Siegfried Jerusalem.
Four-and-a-half hours of this? No wonder audiences are an emotional wreck by opera’s end!