The Sydney-born heldentenor will make his stage debut in the role in 2016.

Australian heldentenor Stuart Skelton will take the lead in a new production of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde set to open the Metropolitan Opera’s 2016 season. The Sydney-born opera star will be the first of his countrymen to play the role at New York’s iconic opera house.

Skelton will star opposite Swedish soprano Nina Stemme, an experienced Isolde and probably the world’s current leading exponent of the role, while leading German bass René Pape will sing King Mark. The new production will be conducted by Sir Simon Rattle, current Chief Conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic, and staged by Polish director Mariusz Trelinski, whose film noir double bill of Tchaikovsky’s rarely performed Iolanta and Bartók’s Bluebeard’s Castle has recently won considerable praise from critics and audiences alike.

“How it came about is, as always, ridiculously prosaic,” Skelton told Limelight. “I’d worked with both Sir Simon Rattle and Willy Decker [the orginal director, sadly forced to withdraw for health reasons] on separate projects and they’d spoken with each other about my suitability… it’s almost always that simple. You work with people who talk to other people and sometimes it all comes up roses.”

The tenor, who has had a string of international successes of late in roles ranging from Verdi’s Otello at English National Opera to Siegmund in Die Walküre (a role he played at the Met and in the Melbourne Ring), makes Australian operatic history in becoming the country’s first Met Tristan. “The first Australian Isolde at the Met was Marjorie Lawrence who sang the role opposite Melchior in 1944,” said Australian Wagner scholar Peter Bassett. “She had been a notable Brünnhilde there, alternating with Kirsten Flagstad, but had contracted polio and sang Isolde from a couch.

“I did not realise I’d be the first Australian,” Skelton said on twitter. “Wowee. No pressure then…”

Those keen to hear the Met’s creative team in Australia should look out for the Sydney Symphony Orchestra’s concert performances of Tristan und Isolde in June when Skelton will sing the title role for the very first time under the baton of David Robertson. Simon Rattle fans can catch him in Sydney and Melbourne in July/August when he conducts Bruckner and Debussy in the latest Australian World Orchestra concerts.