Opening at 13:30 SLT on Wednesday, July 15th at ItalianVerse, is Giovanna Cerise’s latest installation, Tristan und Isolde. Based on Richard Wagner’s 3-act opera of the same name, the installation is, like the opera itself, a remarkable piece.
Premièred in 1865, after a difficult gestation, Tristan und Isolde is acknowledged as one of the peaks of the operatic repertoire, and one of the most influential works in the development of western romantic music, providing direct inspiration to the likes of Gustav Mahler, Richard Strauss and Benjamin Britten, as well as spurring composers such a Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel and Igor Stravinsky to develop their styles of romantic music as a sharp and lasting contrast to Wagner’s more tonal approach.
The core of the story is based on a medieval tale of love between the titular Tristan, a knight of Cornwall, loyal to King Mark(e), and Isolde, an Irish Princess. Within it are the classic themes of murder, love, betrayal and forgiveness played out on three sets, all of which are reproduced in Giovanna’s remarkable installation.
The arrival point, which might be said to be fashioned after the foyer of an opera house, is filled with images of Wagner, Mathilde Wesendonck (with whom Wagner was infatuated at the time Tristan und Isolde was written), promotional images from and 1859 production, and elements of the musical score, gives a hint of what is in store for the visitor.
From here, stairs ascend upwards, leading one to a balcony overlooking the opera’s first act: the ship commanded by Tristan that is bringing Isolde, somewhat by force, from Ireland to Cornwall, where she is to be married to Tristan’s uncle, King Mark(e). On and over the deck of the ship we see symbols representing the unfolding drama.
Above it sits a net about to enclose two pairs of hands coming together in a clasp, indicating both the love between Tristan and Isolde (itself not entirely the product of the potion they both unwittingly drink) and the events that are enfolding them. Then there is the little box of potions – poison and love – which play pivotal roles in the unfolding story.
Finally, lying on the deck and almost transparent, is a sword – a symbol of so much within the tale: Tristan’s role as a knight loyal to his king; his murder of Isolde’s fiancé, and the fact that Isolde once held Tristan’s own life at the point of his own sword, only to spare his life out of her own growing love for him, the result of having saved him from his own mortal wound prior to realising he was the one responsible for her fiancé’s death.
More stairs lead the way upwards to the scene of the second act. Here we find a tree, representing the night-time hunt led by King Mark(e), now wedded to Isolde, which departs the kings hall and leaves the two lovers free to meet. The figures with the net are clearly Tristan and Isolde, their pose reminiscent of the one used in the 1859 promotional material seen in the foyer.
Then there is the net itself; symbolic of so much: the love that binds Tristan and Isolde together; the way in which that love will betray them before the king; the truth behind Tristan’s declaration that only in the long night of death will they ever be truly united; and even Melot’s growing suspicions about the two of them, which also plays a role in their fate.
And so it is that the stairs bring use to a final set of balconies, these again lined by silhouettes of knights, as with the last, once again suggesting a courtly environment. But this is not representative of King Mark(e)’s halls; rather it represents Tristan’s own castle in Brittany. Here the final act is played out; one involving death, forgiveness and ascension, all of which is again beautifully encapsulated in the set of figures rising into he air over a dark shroud.
Opera is often said to be drama on a grand scale, and Giovanna’s installation is very much a reflection of this. It captures an influential piece of opera in the most beautiful and dramatic of ways, a magnificent reflection of Wagner’s work, exquisite in its detail and tone, right down to the selected windlight and the incorporation of musical spheres containing extracts from the opera itself (don’t have the local audio stream running when visiting!).
Truly an installation not to be missed.
- Tristan und Isolde, ItalianVerse (Rated: Moderate)