It’s easy to forget that the New National Theatre Tokyo is just that – new. Its 1814-seater main auditorium is named The Opera Palace, a name chosen by the general public. Having only opened its state-of-the-art theatre in 1997, it’s a relatively young company and is still busily building its repertoire. Only last November it staged its first ever production of Donizetti’s Don Pasquale while this spring sees the first Baroque opera to hit its stage, Handel’s Giulio Cesare. The NNTT’s 2020-21 season, just announced, sees other works new to the company – including a Dai Fujikura world premiere – in a judicious mixture of new productions and revivals of operatic and ballet classics.

The New National Theatre Tokyo © New National Theatre Tokyo
The New National Theatre Tokyo
© New National Theatre Tokyo

Each season, the company is adding a new double bill to its books and next year sees a Russian pairing of Iolanta and Le Rossignol, directed by Yannis Kokkos. Tchaikovsky’s Iolanta started life sharing a double bill with his Nutcracker at the Mariinsky in 1892 but although it was more successful than the ballet at the premiere, it has since struggled, only recently gaining a foothold in the repertoire. It tells the sentimental tale of the King of Provence’s daughter, who is blind. The king, however, has warned his court not to reveal this fact to her, a revelation which breaks midway through the opera when a Burgundian knight stumbles into the palace grounds and falls in love with her. But once she discovers her blindness, does she wish to be cured? Tchaikovsky’s romantic music takes the audience on an emotional voyage. Russian soprano Ekaterina Siurina takes the title role.

Stéphanie d’Oustrac © Perla Maarek
Stéphanie d’Oustrac
© Perla Maarek

Stravinsky’s Le Rossignol (The Nightingale) is based on a fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen and was first performed by the Ballets Russes in 1914. A nightingale sings for a Chinese emperor but takes flight when it is replaced as “first singer” by a mechanical bird. It is only when the Emperor nears death that the bird returns, taking his tears as its reward.

Bizet’s Carmen is at the other end of the operatic spectrum: a surefire hit stuffed with popular tunes, performed hundreds of times every season. For sheer spectacle, you need go no further than director Alex Ollé and his Fura dels Baus team, responsible for some truly jaw-dropping stagings, not least their love for huge futuristic productions, such as their breathtaking Ring Cycle for Valencia, Oedipe at Covent Garden or, indeed, last season’s new Turandot for the NNTT. It will be interesting to see what the Spanish director brings to this most colourful operatic slice of Spain with a cast led by French mezzo Stéphanie d’Oustrac, an outstanding, seductive Carmen.

Dai Fujikura’s new opera, A Dream of Armageddon, premieres in November. Commissioned by the NNTT, this will be the composer’s first opera to be staged in his native country. The opera is based on HG Wells’ short story of the same title, published in 1901, which tells of a man whose dreams are slowly killing him. Click here to read an interview with Fujikura.

The other new productions next season have had a life elsewhere before. Sir David McVicar’s staging of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which opens the NNTT season in October, originates from La Monnaie (2004). McVicar’s opts for a fantastical setting which brings out the sinister – and cynical – sides of Britten’s opera. Oberon, king of the fairy world, will be sung by young Japanese countertenor Daichi Fujiki and an Opera Studio graduate.

Dai Fujikura © Alf Solbakken
Dai Fujikura
© Alf Solbakken

The National Ballet of Japan has new productions next season. Sir Peter Wright’s production of Swan Lake is justly celebrated in the UK where it’s played at Birmingham Royal Ballet since 1981, a fine, traditional version set to Tchaikovsky’s iconic score. There are two new works to the company, both appearing in a triple bill alongside George Balanchine’s Theme and Variations and both originating from Dutch National Ballet. Hans van Manen’s 5 Tangos (1977) is set to the music of Astor Piazzolla and is one of the choreographer’s most popular creations. David Dawson’s A Million Kisses to my Skin (2000) is a neoclassical work, set to the music of one of Bach’s keyboard concertos. Balanchine’s Duo Concertant is also performed by the NBJ for the first time in the new year, paired with Paquita and David Bintley’s uplifting Still Life at Penguin Café.

Among the productions being revived next season in Tokyo, there are some real gems, including Wayne Eagling The Nutcracker and the Mouse King and Roland Petit’s Coppélia. On the operatic stage, there are returns for Jean-Louis Grinda’s Lucia di Lammermoor which sees conductor Speranza Scappucci make her NNTT debut, while an attractive cast is assembled for Verdi’s Don Carlo, featuring Michele Pertusi and Marina Costa-Jackson. Operetta buffs can get their fix with Heinz Zednik’s production of Die Fledermaus, while Wagnerites should enjoy the chance to see Götz Friedrich’s classic staging of Die Walküre featuring a strong international cast, but also boasting local favourite Mihoko Fujimura as Fricka.

Definitely a season with something to offer all tastes.


This article was sponsored by the New National Theatre Tokyo