Skip to main content Skip to footer site map

Review: TRISTAN AND ISOLDE at the Coronet Theatre

A searching dance adaptation of Wagner's masterpiece

Review: TRISTAN AND ISOLDE at the Coronet Theatre

Review: TRISTAN AND ISOLDE at the Coronet Theatre Richard Wagner had many strong ideas when it came to music, especially his operas.

One of the central ones was the idea of the Gesamtkunstwerk, of being in control over everything, from the libretto and the music to the early productions. Taking that from a performance is done at great peril when seeking a truly Wagnerian experience - and Japanese choreographer and dancer Saburo Teshigawara's adaptation does it with some mixed results.

Reducing the runtime to a mere 60 minutes and concentrating on excerpts that focus on the love story between the titular characters, Teshigawara's dance version of Tristan is a curious beast indeed. But is it worth it?

As one would expect from the iconic Teshigawara, the choreography is strong. There is no doubt that he himself, at the proud age of 68, is still an impressive dancer and choreographer. Paired with Rihoko Sato, he delivers a performance that is well worth the runtime. Wearing simple black costumes, they have a wonderful chemistry on stage as they enact some of the opera's most memorable moments.

Teshigawara portrays a lot of large, wavelike motions, building together a chorus of movements indicating passion, only to be occasionally interrupted by touches of irregular twitches, hinting at the underlying difficulties of the fateful love story. Sato, meanwhile, has smoother, rounded movements to accomplish. Her face always carries some of the necessary tragedy in her eyes. It's really beautiful to look at.

Where the dance adaptation falls apart a little is at the drawing board. Of course it is true that it's impossible to dance the full runtime of Tristan und Isolde - but how does one deal with the cuts? In the first half of the production, the music jumps all over the place. We hear the overture; then there's a fade-out followed by a fade-in to the next bit, and this occurs numerous times, always taking the audience out of the action.

As Wagner insisted, we need the Unendliche Melodie for the piece to be effective - the never-ending melody, or the "forever modulating melody". But how is it forever modulating when it's interrupted every few minutes and starting at an entirely different point in the plot?

Another issue with this editing is that the scenes selected for the portrayal are all centred around Tristan and Isolde's love affair. Fair enough: the opera's central theme is endlessly unsatisfied longing, but it does mean that we get the repetition of the yearning and longing themes in the music far too often over the course of just an hour. This might be great for fans of Wagner whose hair stands erect like a frightened hedgehog at the sound of the first notes of the main theme, but for others it might be considered a bit repetitive.

These factors considered, it's important not to neglect that this is primarily a dance performance, and as such, it is more powerful than the issues surrounding Wagner's dream suggest. The choreography is stunning, and coupled with gorgeous lighting - designed by Teshigawara himself and executed by Thomas Leblanc - it produces some scenic magic that is wonderful to look at, and therefore makes this production of Tristan and Isolde well worth it.

Tristan and Isolde is at the Coronet Theatre until 10 June.

Photo Credit: Mariko Miura

Richmond Theatre Announces Spring 2023 Season Photo
With the weather beginning to warm up and the sun staying up for longer, Richmond Theatre is delighted to ‘spring’ into a new season. Filled with hilarious comedies, fun family shows and big names, audiences are encouraged to picnic on the Green prior to taking their seat in the beautiful Frank Matcham-designed theatre for an evening of entertainment.  

Alexandra Burke Helps Launch This Years Love Your Local Theatre Campaign By The National L Photo
On World Theatre Day, The National Lottery’s Love Your Local Theatre campaign returns for a second year running, made possible through a partnership with Society of London Theatre and UK Theatre, the UK's leading theatre membership organisations committed to making theatre accessible to everyone. 

Leading Theatre Producers Will Illuminate Your Curiosity With A Spotlight On in Honour ff  Photo
In celebration of World Theatre Day 2023, leading West End and Broadway theatre producers have announced that in April 2023 they will be illuminating your curiosity with A Spotlight On.

The Philharmonia Orchestra and Esa-Pekka Salonen Release The Orchestra App for iPhone Photo
Wise Music Group, Classical Apps, Esa-Pekka Salonen, and the Philharmonia Orchestra have announced the release of The Orchestra for iPhone. The critically acclaimed and award-winning iPad app was originally launched in 2012, and the new launch will bring The Orchestra to a wider audience by making it compatible with iPhone as well as iPad.

From This Author - Michael Higgs

Michael is a London-based publishing editor born with a passion for literature, theatre, music and the arts. When he isn't busy publishing new academic papers or writing reviews for Broadway Wo... (read more about this author)

Review: LA BOHÈME, Royal Opera HouseReview: LA BOHÈME, Royal Opera House
October 15, 2022

Focusing on uncontroversial flamboyance, Richard Jones’s revival of his 2017 production of La bohème is a visual spectacle with plenty to please the eye.

Review: PATIENCE, Wilton's Music HallReview: PATIENCE, Wilton's Music Hall
August 25, 2022

Ever since its first production in 1881, Gilbert and Sullivan’s Patience has brought its audiences to tears of laughter, and this production by Charles Court Opera is no exception.

Review: SERSE, Opera Holland ParkReview: SERSE, Opera Holland Park
July 1, 2022

This historical revival of Handel’s Serse particularly emphasises the humorous aspects of the opera, thereby creating a wonderfully entertaining spectacle from start to finish.

Review: SUMMER SOLSTICE, Union TheatreReview: SUMMER SOLSTICE, Union Theatre
June 21, 2022

What is love? It's a question that has plagued philosophers and poets for as long as humans have existed. Unfortunately, we are no closer to finding any meaningful answers to this question in Mel Masry's shallow and unsatisfying play.

BWW Review: TRISTAN AND ISOLDE at the Coronet TheatreBWW Review: TRISTAN AND ISOLDE at the Coronet Theatre
June 6, 2022

Richard Wagner had many strong ideas when it came to music, especially his operas. Reducing the runtime to a mere 60 minutes and concentrating on excerpts that focus on the love story between the titular characters, is Japanese choreographer and dancer Saburo Teshigawara’s adaptation a success?