Refreshments for a weary generation (Richard Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde)

 When I visited Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde last week (Utrecht, October 15, Nationale Reisopera),  I increasingly felt uncomfortable when the story unfolded. Of course, the prelude was marvellous again and the critics of this primordial love story were jubilant as well. At the same time, however, I was no longer able to make the connection. The vocabulary of honor, liquidation and vendetta might still resonate with our Muslim compatriots, but they were definitely underrepresented during this performance. In first instance, I thought that this opera was only able to please a weary generation and was no longer able to really impress. Later on, I realized that my experience of discomfort might be interpreted as a ‘spiritual’ counterpart of Wagner’s Tristan chord in this opera. The tensions created by the music resonated in my experience of uncannyness, and raised the question whether it is still possible to produce an artistic, literary or philosophical Tristan chord in the current age. Our challenge is to experiment with and produce Tristan chords which do no longer act as ‘refreshments for a weary generation’.

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