Sunday 27 September 2015 7.30pm

SIMON REES: Wagner, Mathilde Wesendonck and the origins of Tristan and Isolde

Richard Wagner and his wife Minna were the guests of the rich Zurich silk-merchant Otto Wesendonck and his wife the poet Mathilde Wesendonck during the time when Wagner was working on Tristan und Isolde. Wagner became infatuated with Mathilde (to the rage of poor Minna) and sat with her for hours in the gardens and the greenhouse at Villa Wesendonck, the splendid new home Otto had built on the shores of the lake. Wagner set several of Mathilde’s poems, using melodic material later incorporated into Tristan und Isolde. Their conversations on love, philosophy and art (with Schopenhauer as a principal topic) prefigured the similar discussions between Isolde and Tristan in the second act of the opera. After Minna intercepted a letter from Wagner to Mathilde (grossly misinterpreting it, in Wagner’s view) the ensuing row made impossible for the Wagners to stay in Zurich, and so they continued on their travels, where Wagner completed the composition of Tristan und Isolde. Simon Rees illustrates this lecture with pictures of the Wagners, the Wesendoncks, Zurich and the early productions of Tristan, and with musical excerpts from the Wesendonck Lieder and from Tristan und Isolde.

Simon Rees is a freelance dramaturg, poet, novelist and librettist. He worked as dramaturg for Welsh National Opera from 1989 to 2012. He now reviews for Opera, Opera Now, Classical Music, Bachtrack and other magazines and websites, and writes surtitle and singing translations of operas. His most recent collection of poems, The Wood below Coelbren, was published by Poetry Salzburg in 2014.

Simon Rees's new collection of poems, The Wood below Coelbren, is published by Poetry Salzburg Press at £10.50 +£2.00 p&p. It may be ordered from
Reviewed in the New Welsh Review at

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