Opera Ballet Flanders builds Wagner's natural trumpet

Opera Ballet Flanders (OBV) has had a natural trumpet built exactly according to Richard Wagner's instructions, to be used in upcoming performances of his opera 'Tristan und Isolde'. It is the first time an opera house has built this trumpet, says OBV.

In the third act of German composer Wagner's 1865 'Tristan und Isolde', the arrival of Isolde's ship is announced by a cheerful trumpet melody, sounding from the side stage. In the story, the tune is played by a shepherd. It is a short melody, but Wagner wanted a distinct, particular sound. In his original score, the composer included some instructions. The trumpet had to sound "like an alpine horn" with "a wooden cup" and "within the scale of nature".

This trumpet did not exist when the opera premiered in Munich, nor is there any indication that it ever existed. Usually, opera houses use a hunting horn or other wind instrument with valves for this short melody. OBV had the instrument that Wagner had in mind built especially for the upcoming 'Tristan und Isolde' production, which will premiere on 22 March.

The initiator of the adventure was Serge Rigaumont, a trumpeter in the Symphonic Orchestra Opera Ballet Vlaanderen. OBV engaged the services of Gunther Cogen, an instrument builder specialising in historical trumpets, to build the instrument. For this project, Cogen collaborated with Daniël Vernooij, a builder of historical clarinets.

The trumpet will not be seen in the orchestra pit because it will be played from the side stage during the scene in question. The performance will likely prove challenging for the musician because on a natural (valveless) trumpet, they can only perform this melody using their lips.

"This is an incredibly exciting project. Although the passage seems like just a detail, nothing is a detail with Wagner. Hence, he set out to find a specific sound. Exploring and putting that sound into practice is also a task for a house like ours," says artistic director Jan Vandenhouwe.




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