Wagner’s ‘Tristan Und Isolde’ Returns in Much-Awaited Revival at Tokyo Theater

©Rikimaru Hotta/New National Theatre, Tokyo
Tristan (Zoltan Nyari) and Isolde (Liene Kinca) fall in love with each other in Act I of “Tristan und Isolde” at the New National Theatre, Tokyo.

The acclaimed production of Richard Wagner’s “Tristan und Isolde,” which premiered in 2010, has been finally revived at the New National Theatre, Tokyo (NNTT) in Hatsudai, Tokyo.

The six performances for the 2023/2024 season opened on March 14, conducted by Kazushi Ono, the artistic director of the theater.

The story begins aboard a ship to Cornwall, England. Isolde, the princess of Ireland, and the knight Tristan unknowingly take a love potion and fall desperately in love with each other. Yet their love is doomed as Isolde becomes the bride of Tristan’s uncle, King Marke of Cornwall.

The epic tale of the two ill-fated lovers is regarded to be th pinnacle of operas by Wagner, which the German composer called musiktheater. The irresistibly alluring music is a landmark in music history for introducing the so-called Tristan chords and for its expansive use of chromatic harmony.

Director David McwVicar did not resort to using gimmicks but sincerely told the story with a wise arrangemen of the characters. The stage was blessed with set and costume designer Robert Jones’ simple yet inspiring set that were beautifully illuminated by lighting designer Paule Constable.

Ono, who conducted the production back in 2010, wished to revive it when he assumed the post of the NNTT’s artistic director for opera in 2016.

The conductor drew out clear and rich sounds from the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra, with which he has a long, successful working relationship.

The production had to overcome setbacks prior to its premiere: both singers originally casted for the two title roles had to withdraw due to illness or personal reasons. Latvian soprano Liene Kinca, who sang Elisabeth in Wagner’s “Tannhauser” at the NNTT in 2019, filled in as Isolde for Eva-Maria Westbroek who pulled out for personal reasons in November, while Hungarian tenor Zoltan Nyari replaced Torsten Kerl, who had to withdraw due to an illness, for the role of Tristan less than a month before the first night and just in time for rehearsals. Kinca’s emotionally charged singing and Nyari’s youthful sounding voice were a perfect fit for young, ardent lovers.

They received great support from other singers in the main roles, notably mezzo-soprano Mihoko Fujimura as Isolde’s loyal lady-in-waiting Brangane; baritone Egils Silins as Tristan’s trusty servant Kurwenal; and bass Wilhelm Schwinghammer as the benevolent King Marke. Particularly outstanding was Fujimura, one of the foremost Wagner mezzo-sopranos today.

The last performance of “Tristan und Isolde” will take place at the New National Theatre, Tokyo, in Hatsudai, Tokyo on Friday at 2 p.m.

Visit https://www.nntt.jac.go.jp/english/opera/for more information.