Tristan and Isolde


Last weekend I went to see Tristan and Isolde at the magnificent Four Seasons Centre in downtown Toronto, performed by the Canadian Opera Company.

My sister Kathleen invited me because her friend wasn’t able to attend. Our orchestra seats were ten rows from the stage.  I would never have been able to afford these tickets–$165–and couldn’t wait to see the opera. I felt grateful to her friend.

Kathleen and I met at the entrance and as we handed the tickets over I asked which friend donated them to us.

“Do you remember my friend Sandra?”

“Sure I do,” I said. “I remember her very well. How is she?”

“She died last weekend.”

This woman, a lawyer Kathleen had met at Queen’s University Law School back in the early 1980s, had MS and slipped, hard, in her Toronto home.

Unable to rouse herself, or reach the phone, she bled to death.

The opera tickets were found in her condo and sent on to Kathleen.

I was stunned.

Briefly, while settling ourselves in our seats, with orchestral tune-up notes like balm all around us, we spoke about this woman.

Sandra lived alone, said Kathleen. Once she developed MS she cut herself off from everybody; but she somehow still made it to COC performances.

“She was a lesbian, wasn’t she?” I asked, wondering whether she had a partner.

“Yes, but she was in the closet all the years that I knew her.

“The only reason I knew, for sure, that she was gay was because a while back I asked if she’d like to be setup on a date with a woman.

“Sandra said yeah, sure, and met my friend, but that’s all I ever heard about it.”

“She was always alone,” Kathleen added.

The program notes for ACT III reads:

“After love, the last task in a human life is death.”

Love and death; Tristan and Isolde; central themes to this Wagner opera but there is one more theme, making this version of this myth of the two lovers spectacularly unique.

And it also makes me ponder one of the imagined themes of Sandra’s life.

In the opera King Marke, the ruler who sent Tristan on the mission to kidnap Isolde, reveals that he is in love with Tristan and right there on the stage at the Four Seasons Centre, right there on the lips of esteemed Canadian tenor Ben Heppner, Marke plants an extended kiss.

The two men had been lovers; they had devised the abduction plot together–but all that had happened before Tristan and Isolde unknowingly swallowed the love potion and belonged to each other.

I thought about Sandra’s life alone, how she was afraid to come out even to her friends. I thought about her death. Alone. And now this brave new opera…

“The love that dare not speak its name,” read to the liner notes “is as strong as any other love.”

Thank you, Sandra, for the little bit of you I was fortunate to have known.
And thank you for the opera.


About Nor

I'm a creative non-fiction writer, with a special interest in memoirs and obituaries--life stories, local histories with flesh & blood anecdotal details. I'm also beginning to create podcasts of people's stories and expanding their audiences. I'm a diarist, an editor, and a political activist. I live in Toronto, Ontario, Canada and spend days tapping keys or staining my fingers in ink.
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1 Response to Tristan and Isolde

  1. Stephanie says:

    That was lovely, Noreen. It’s a sad, moving story, but beautifully told. How interesting that the homosexual aspect of “Tristan und Isolde” (which I didn’t know about) wove itself into the story too. Thanks for sharing this.

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