In 1857 he completed the libretto of Tristan and Isolde at Venice, adopting the Celtic legend modified by Gottfried of Strasburg's medieval version.
Gottfried's Tristan and Isolde has been several times published; the best editions are those of Bechstein (1890) and Golther (1889); modern German versions by Kurz, Simrock and Hertz; English prose rendering, J.
On the 10th of June 1865 at Munich, Tristan and Isolde was produced for the first time, with Herr and Frau Schnorr in the principal parts.
The love that is disguised in the deadly feud between Isolde and Tristan, before the drinking of the fatal potion, rises even above the music; the love-duet in the second act depends for its greatness on its introduction, before the lovers have met, and its wonderful slow movement (shortly before the catastrophe) where they are almost silent and leave everything to the music: the intervening twenty minutes is an exhausting storm in which the words are the sophisticated rhetoric of a 19th-century novel of passion, translated into terribly turgid verse and set to music that is more interesting as an intellectual ferment than effective as a representation of emotions which previous dramatists have wisely left to the imagination.
The overwhelming love-tragedy of Tristan and Isolde is hardly less perfect, though the simplicity of its action exposes its longueurs to greater notoriety than those which may be found in Die Meistersinger.
In his next work, Die Meistersinger, Wagner ingeniously made poetry and drama out of an explicit manifesto to musical critics, and proved the depth of his music by developing its everyday resources and so showing that its vitality does not depend on that extreme emotional force that makes Tristan and Isolde almost unbearably poignant.
Wagner now settled for a time in Vienna, where Tristan and Isolde was accepted, but abandoned after fifty-seven rehearsals, through the incompetence of the tenor.