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SING OUT: Tenor becomes part of history performing on storied Harriman Series

When tenor Michael Fabiano performs on the Harriman-Jewell Series on January 19th, it will be only the latest in the Series’ half-century of presenting recital debuts by up-and-coming and, at times, well-established opera singers. Just among the tenors alone are such names as Luciano Pavarotti, Ben Heppner, Juan Diego Flórez, Salvatore Licitra and Clifton Forbis, all of whom made either their world or U.S. recital debut in Kansas City. Michael is known to vocal fans worldwide for his performances in concert and on such opera stages as the Metropolitan Opera, Covent Garden, English National Opera, Opéra National de Paris and Seattle Opera, yet he has only sung one recital during his professional career – in Canada. Viewers of the Met’s Live HD broadcasts into movie theaters were recently able to watch his highly acclaimed portrayal of Cassio in Verdi’s Otello, alongside Renée Fleming and Johan Botha.

Among the reasons why solo recitals have been a rare species at times is the fact that they are really hard to do. “The recital can be more difficult than an opera performance,” Michael says, “because one has to be able to create and embody several different characters over the course of a 90-minute evening. In an opera you have the luxury of having an orchestra, costumes and a set to support you. In a recital all you have is a piano.” A single singer onstage must create it all, he says; “demonstrate a dynamic range of colors and complexity. … In a recital I have to go through a range of emotions, [with] very, very drastic feelings, internal and external. It takes a lot of mental preparation, as much as it does musical preparation.”

Raised in New Jersey and Minnesota, the dapper 28-year-old initially studied at the University of Michigan, though a career in music was the furthest thing from his mind. “I wanted to probably become a lawyer or maybe a businessman, or maybe both, who knows. So I went to college with that intention.” While at Michigan, Michael took voice lessons with the eminent tenor George Shirley “not intending to do anything with it,” he says. But it wasn’t long before George convinced him he should think seriously about being a professional singer. “If I have an objective I will achieve it,” Michael says. “I will go with it and will go at it nonstop. Once I decided that I was born for singing, I went for it completely.” After graduating from Michigan he went to one of the toughest music schools in America, Philadelphia’s Academy of Vocal Arts, and he worked very, very hard. “AVA is a tough school,” he says of the program also attended by Our Town’s Joyce DiDonato. “But when you graduate, you graduate with a spine, and anybody who knows this industry knows that a spine is a good asset to have.” He is still grateful to the school’s world-class faculty for their “very, very high expectations.”

Michael continues to reside in Philadelphia, where he is near his vocal coaches and his family in New Jersey and where New York is a quick train ride to the north. “I could live in New York but to me the city gets a little taxing after a while. I’d rather stay here where the energy is a little lower and everything’s a little closer.” Michael reached a career milestone in 2007 when he became a Grand Prize winner at the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, which for some singers is a jumping-off point into a big career. (This experience was the subject of a 2009 documentary The Audition, which aired on PBS’s “Great Performances at the Met.” You can see a trailer on YouTube.) But Michael also credits AVA and his early experiences at ENO, where he took part in “a lot of performances that got my chops prepared for the business.”

After that, came, in relatively close succession, debuts at La Scala, the Met, Deutsche Oper Berlin, Dresden’s Semperoper and Seattle Opera, and he performed with major orchestras including those of Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Cleveland and Minnesota. He has received a wide array of honors, including the George London Foundation Encouragement Award to a Tenor in Memory of James McCracken, the José Carreras Prize for the Best Tenor in the Julian Gayarre Competition, and first prize at the 2006 Licia Albanese Puccini Foundation Competition.

Michael is no stranger to Kansas City: In 2008, he sang the role of “Rodolfo” in the Lyric Opera of Kansas City’s production La Bohème, which opened the Lyric’s 50th Anniversary Season. In addition, in 2010 he sang a poignant tribute at the Memorial Service for the Harriman-Jewell Series’ late co-founder Richard Harriman, held on the Jewell campus.

He says the role of “Cassio” has indeed been one of his “good luck charms,” but there have been others, including “Gennaro inLucrezia Borgia” (which he sang with Renée in San Francisco) and the “Duke” in Rigoletto. He’s had no shortage of critical acclaim: The New York Post praised his “gleaming tenor” in the Met’s Otello and went on to say: “A handsome star in the making, he’s a magnetic presence that draws the eye whatever the visual distraction.” Michael says he hopes perhaps to perform heavier roles as he grows older, but that for now he’s a lyric tenor “because I’m young and it’s the responsible thing to do vocally. I’m a lyric tenor because I enjoy doing it, but also … because it’s the healthy thing to do now. Still, I believe my voice lends itself to other repertories as well, and in time, I’ll transition.”

Michael says he admires the especially passionate characters found throughout opera, but he jokes that he is wary of identifying too closely with characters who “live by the sword and are passionate – but who ultimately die, often by their own hand.” When asked what tenors he admires, the first name out of his mouth is Aureliano Pertile, an Italian master who flourished in the 1920s and’30s. He also names Mario Del Monaco, Franco Corelli, José Carreras and Nicolai Gedda. “And for sure, I have a lot of respect for Luciano Pavarotti. His voice is gold.” As determined and passionate as he may be, Michael says that “every day on the opera stage is a learning experience. I get the opportunity to see what other people do, how they do it, where they succeed and where they fail. It allows me to reflect on my performance and how I can improve it. So that’s why it’s a joy to be on the stage with some wonderful artists, and to see where they succeed, and glean advice from some of the people I consider to be masters.”

To reach Paul Horsley, performing arts editor, send email to phorsley@sbcglobal.net.


Paul Horsley, Performing Arts Editor 

Paul studied piano and musicology at WSU and Cornell University. He also earned a degree in journalism, because writing about the arts in order to inspire others to partake in them was always his first love. After earning a PhD from Cornell, he became Program Annotator for the Philadelphia Orchestra, where he learned firsthand the challenges that non profits face. He moved to KC to join the then-thriving Arts Desk at The Kansas City Star, but in 2008 he happily accepted a post at The Independent. Paul contributes to national publications, including Dance Magazine, Symphony, Musical America, and The New York Times, and has conducted scholarly research in Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic (the latter on a Fulbright Fellowship). He also taught musicology at Cornell, LSU and Park University.