Wagner's affair with Mathilde Wesendonk, wife to one of his most generous patrons, came to an explosive head in January 1858 when Minna Wagner intercepted a letter to Mathilde from her husband. The Wagners continued to live in the luxurious two-story "cottage" on the grounds of the Wesendonk estate in Zürich until mid-August, when Minna left for Dresden, Wagner for Venice. Though it is doubtful that their shared passion toppled into physical intimacy, the volatile mutual attraction of Wagner and Mathilde served to break a creative deadlock that had beset Wagner since the completion of Lohengrin in 1848 and called forth his most radical work, his celebration of their love in Tristan und Isolde. Composition of Tristan's first two acts was finished before he departed, the full score through Act Two completed in Venice on March 18, 1859, and the entire score wrapped up at Lucerne on August 6, 1859. By September Wagner was in Paris where he hoped to have Tristan performed, having "sold" Wesendonk the copyrights to the half-composed Ring operas on the way. Despite being a fugitive for revolutionary activities in Dresden in 1849, productions of Der fliegende Holländer, Tannhäuser, and Lohengrin across Germany had established him as another in the line of great German composers. In Paris, Wagner organized a series of three enthusiastically received concerts of music from his works, given over January and February 1860, creating a vogue. To his surprise, he found that some of his most ardent fans were influential nobles at the court of Napoléon III, including the notorious Princess Pauline Metternich, wife of the Austrian ambassador. Though she'd heard Tannhäuser in Dresden, the Princess was a bit spotty on Wagner's music, telling him that she was avid to play his "fugues" on her piano. Calling herself le singe à la mode -- fashion's ape -- Pauline saw Wagner as an opportunity to be in the vanguard by supporting a controversial artist, while her closeness to Empress Eugénie made this a real possibility. In the upshot, the Emperor ordered that Tannhäuser be mounted at the Opéra immediately, and that Wagner be given carte blanche in its production. After 160 rehearsals, Tannhäuser opened on March 13, 1861, to be shouted down by members of the Jockey Club, protesting less the absence of the obligatory second-act ballet than Princess Metternich's interference. Wagner's wistful little album-leaf for her, dated "Paris, June 18, 1861," was both a token of thanks and a bid for further patronage.
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Description by Adrian Corleonis
|2014||Signum Classics||SIGCD 388|
|2012||Melba Recordings||MR 301141|
|1998||DG Deutsche Grammophon||459 065-2GCC5|
|1998||DG Deutsche Grammophon||459003|
|1996||Sony Music Distribution||62337|