Tristan und Isolde
Stuart Skelton, Gun-Brit Barkmin, Ekaterina Gubanova, Boaz Daniel, Ain Anger, Angus Wood, Paul O’Neill, Andrew Foote; WASO Chorus; St George’s Cathedral Consort; West Australian Symphony Orchestra/Asher Fisch
ABC Classic 481 8518 222:01 mins (3 discs)
And not before time! At last Stuart Skelton’s Tristan is on disc. And lucky the audience who sat and stood – and cheered – in the Perth Concert Hall in Western Australia in August 2018. Skelton gave them a performance that ran the full gamut of this impossibly demanding role: coldly alienated in Act I when Isolde demands him to attend her; softly romantic in the extended love duet in Act II, and agonised as the dying hero unravels his history in the final act. Skelton combines power and lyricism with a remarkable stamina. And his attention to detail is matchless.
But Tristan und Isolde needs more than a Tristan. While some may have doubts about Gun-Brit Barkmin’s Isolde, wanting a fuller rounded tone, there is no questioning the dramatic power of her voice. In her Act I narration you hang on her every word; and when she spits out the word ‘vassal’, describing what she has become as a trophy bride, the venom is palpable. Ekaterina Gubanova is a rich and ripe Bragäne and Boaz Daniel a deeply satisfying Kurwenal; and then there is Ain Anger’s Mark, not a well-aged bass but somehow younger, making his incomprehension in the Act II monologue all the more affecting.
All honour, too, to Asher Fisch and the West Australian Symphony Orchestra who sound as if they were born with Wagnerian silver spoons in their mouths! Fisch understands about partnering his singers but he never forgets that the psychological drama of this extraordinary work is played out in the pit quite as much as on stage.