Tristan und Isolde: A synopsis

Nina Stemme1865In anticipation of seeing Tristan this September at the Met – with Nina Stemme singing and Simon Rattle conducting! – I’ve been studying the work, thoroughly, for the first time. I like to take different approaches to this, not just analytical, but also singing some of the vocal parts, playing it on piano (very haltingly, but nonetheless), listening to various recordings, and writing the following. I don’t claim that it is all that original or funny, but at least I finally know what they’re singing about.

Tristan und Isolde, boiled down.


Scene One:

Sailor: La-la-la.

Isolde: Where am I?

Brangane: You’re in the hold of a ship, being taken to England.

I: What?!? No, no!

B: Now you’re upset?! Why didn’t you say so before we left?!

Scene Two:

Sailor: La-la.

I: Sigh. What do you think of Tristan?

B: He’s a great hero.

I: Hah! He’s a schmuck. Hey, go tell him I want to see him.

(above deck)

Kurwenal: Heads up, Tristan.

B: Isolde wants to see you.

Tristan: Tell her thanks, but I have to pilot the ship.

K: And tell her sit down and shut up!

Sailors (singing): We killed your lover and took you as reward, la-la!

Scene Three

I: So, what did he say?

B: He was very nice, but…no.

I: I am super upset! You see, back in Ireland, he was near death, I nursed him back to health, and then realized it was Tristan, who had killed my fiancĂ©! I was going to kill him, but I didn’t. He swore eternal gratitude, and now he’s betrayed me!

B: Maybe he’s trying to thank you by giving you to the Prince, making you royalty?

I: I’m going to kill him with Mom’s special Kool-Aid (Todestrank)!

Scene Four

K: Hey Isolde, Tristan says get ready to go ashore with him!

I: Aaaah (checks herself)- ahem. Not till he says he’s sorry.

K: Be right back.

I: Brangane, quick, give me the Kool-Aid.

B: I can’t!

I: You must!

K returns: Tristan’s here.

I: Come in.

Scene Five

T: You rang?

I: Fuck you!

T: Just doing my job.

I: You killed my beloved, and I should have killed you.

T: Ok, do it now. (gives her his sword)

I: No. I want a drink and an apology.

T: If I must. Let’s hurry, we’ve landed.

I: Drink, and then you can tell King Mark what a good little girl I am.

T: Well, this’ll probably kill me, but… bottoms up. (drinks)

I: Hey, save some for me! (drinks)



B: Oh shit.

K: Hey Tristan, let’s go see the King.

T: Say what now?

Sailors: We’re sailors!

B: Oh shit.

I: Brangane, what was in that drink?

B: Der Love Potion! (Der Liebestrank).

I: Oh shit. (She faints.)


Cornwall, where King Mark lives. Isolde’s hutch. A torch in the doorway. Hunting horns in the distance.

Scene One

Isolde: Tristan’s close friend Melot organized a hunting party to distract everyone so Tristan could make a bootycall!

Brangane: Yeah, but they ain’t hunting game. Listen, about Melot: I think he’s plotting to trap you and Tristan, so he can be King.

I: Aww, you’re crazy.

B: It’s true: I am an idiot, and all is lost.

I: There’s still four hours to go! I’m going to extinguish the torch; that’s my signal to loverboy.

Scene Two

Tristan: Isolde!

Isolde: Tristan!

Tristan: Isolde!

Isolde: Tristan!

Tristan: Tristan!

Isolde: Isol- hey wait a second!

[They rhapsodize their infinite love. Infinitely.]

Brangane: Hey airheads, it’s almost morning!

Tristan: If the night would last forever…

Isolde: … our love would last forever.

Both: Let’s call our whole lives off!

Scene Three

Kurnwenal, Melot, King Mark burst in

Melot, to King Mark: Told you he was bangin’ Isolde!

King Mark: I thought you were my friend! And what’s worse, the whole thing was your idea! I didn’t want to remarry after my wife died! “Oh King Mark, let me go win you a bride,” you said. “The people need a Queen,” you said. Man, Tristan, you suck.

Tristan: Yup. Hey, Isolde, maybe we should…you know.

I: I’m down.

M: First let me kill you!

T: Works for me!

They fight, and Melot stabs Tristan.


Tristan’s downwardly mobile castle in Brittany

Scene One

A long English Horn solo. Get it? “English”?

Kurwenal (to the insignificant person miming the English Horn): What’s that song you’re playing?

Insignificant Person: “The Blues”.

K: Sigh. Any sign of “the doctor”?

I P: No.

Tristan (groans): Oh my head… I remember nothing.

K: Nothing?

T: Nope. Hey, where’s Isolde?

K: Oh shit. Actually, she’s on her way.

T: Thanks man; you’re a good friend. Is she here yet?

K: No.

T: Is she here yet?

K: No.

T: Here’s a long poem that turns on “yearning” and “dying”.

K: Umm, maybe you should save your breath, Tristan.

T: Is she here yet?

K: No.

T: Is she here yet?

K: Hey, the ship! With Isolde!

T: Finally!

Scene Two

T: I feel much better! (Pulls himself up, stumbles. Blood is spurting out of him.) Yup, all better!

I: Hi babe!

T: He dies.

I: Well, that worked out well. She passes out.

Scene Three

Insignificant person: Yo Kurwenal, Mark and Melot are invading us!

Kurwenal: Bar the doors!


K: Who is it?

Brangane: It’s Brangane.
K: Which side are you on again?

Melot: Hello!

Kurnewal stabs Melot, who dies.

King Mark: I knew we should have telephoned first! Some welcome! Have you seen Tristan?

K: (stabbed by the King’s men) He’s over there. He dies.

K M: Oh great. Hey, could people stop stabbing for a moment?

I: I actually haven’t been stabbed, but this being opera, I’m a goner nonetheless. She dies.

The End.

This entry was posted in Music Thoughts and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.