Stuart Skelton, a fine performer and strong, sensitive singer, is by nature and profession a Heldentenor. He is indeed heroic, not only in voice but in how he carries himself on stage. His Wagnerian heroes – Parsifal, Tristan, Lohengrin and Siegmund in Die Walküre – emerge as strong and supple clarion calls perfectly suited to his strong and noble technique. But I think also of Skelton’s portrayals of such anti-heroes as Peter Grimes, beneath whose bluffness lies a fragile, disturbed mind, or other social misfits, including Laca, in Janáček’s Jenůfa, Hermann, in Tchaikovsky’s Queen of Spades, and Guido, in Zemlinsky’s Eine florentinische Tragödie.
Not for Skelton (nor for any quality singer who can be mentioned in the same breath) the easy path to performance. Not for him the stand-and-deliver, pocket-the-fee-and-move-on approach. He is too committed an artist for that. With Skelton, one always has the feeling he has taken infinite pains, as much with the consideration of what he performs as with its preparation and execution.
For all of these reasons, I had high hopes that Skelton’s recital – his first in Australia, according to his website – would be something to treasure. In the event, although there were more than a few treasurable moments, I felt an underlying sense of the piecemeal and, at times, awkwardness. Recitals, almost subconsciously, should have an underlying momentum that involves performers and audience. This was there, but inconsistently so.
At some times, Skelton essayed music and text with beauteous attention and subtle dynamics; but at other times, he was coarse, approaching a stentorian bellow like a pipe organ on full swell. Similarly, Richard Peirson’s piano accompaniment, which seemed more dutiful than inspired, often varied in mood, from the lyrical to abrupt, like a series of fast gear-changes.