Last night Michael Fabiano closed out his first recital tour of the United States in my hometown of Santa Monica here at the Broad Stage.
Since winning the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions a decade ago at the very tender age, for a tenor, of 22 year, has steadily built the career international. Starting out with mostly the young heroes of Donizetti, Verdi, and Puccini, since winning the Richard Tucker Award in 2014 he has moved into the borderline spinto roles of Verdi’s Don Carlo, Rodolfo in Luisa Miller, and Donizetti’s Poliuto with much success.
The Broad Stage is a magnificent venue for classical music at just over 500 seats with exceptional sightlines and acoustics. They have taken up the mantle of presenting opera singers in recital which was once the provenience of Royce Hall on the UCLA campus and the Ambassador Auditorium in Pasadena.
He took the stage in unassuming fashion with a smile and a wave followed on by the conductor for the evening Marco Boemi. A pick up orchestra numbering forty-five members had been assembled for the occasion and though there was an initial skirmish of string playing that proved a tad uncertain it was quickly righted with a stern look from the podium.
Mr. Fabiano then proceeded to pour gasoline over the audience and toss a lit match into the crowd with his rendition of “Granada.” How many times I have heard this hoary standby performed I cannot count. How many times was it exciting? So exciting I literally checked around me to see if we were all going to jump out of our seats at the end of the first number? Never before I assure you. When it finished I’m certain I heard an elderly woman behind me gasp to regain her breath.
But he gave us all no chance to recover our poise and launched into an incendiary rendition of “No puede ser” that was rendered so ardently and with such tenderness there seemed little hope of any further resistance. Yet I staunched my critical objectivity..
Mr. Fabiano took a respite as the overture to Verdi’s I Vespri Siciliani enjoyed a surprisingly spirited and accomplished reading with full attention to the composers quickly shifting tempos and dynamic markings and excellent delineation of all those Rossinian crescendos as well. Immediately reminding us all of why this piece is so popular in concert and rarely followed by the actual opus it was written to introduce.
Once again Mr. Fabiano strode onto the stage and rendered up the Act II showpiece from Luisa Miller “Quando le sera al placido.” The varying degrees of strength and lyricism in his vocalism and his unquestionable understanding of the text made this yet another memorable souvenir of his art.
He then focused his brooding intensity on Lensky’s aria of remorse just before the fatal duel in Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin. He built quietly and steadily from a near whisper to an intense climax of emotion and then tapered down again for the bleak final phrases to stunning effect.
Since we were already behind enemy lines the “Polovtsian Dances” from Borodin’s Prince Igor was next on the program (sans chorus) and if there were a few moments where playing wasn’t completely coordinated they were easily overlooked by the vitality of this group and their lush string tone and excellent playing from the horns.
Closing the first half with two of Richard Strauss’ lieder with orchestra Mr. Fabiano dialed back for a hushed rendering of “Morgen” that found him surprisingly more delicate at the top of the staff than I anticipated he was capable of and with magnificent accompaniment from Concertmaster Roger Wilkie.
Mr. Fabiano is one of the few singers I have heard that make German sound almost like a romance language. While his diction was crisp and consonants precise he kept his vowels beautifully round and warm avoiding the barking effect one hears in so many tenors in this repertoire. He then locked, reloaded, and fired off a sumptuous “Cäcilie” that left us all staggering into the lobby for the intermission talking of little else. One astonished attendee I overheard, commenting on his slight frame, said, “Where does it all come from?”
The second half opened with an energetic account of the overture from Weber’s Der Freischütz that could have used a bit more polish but served well as a sorbet to ready our palette for further pleasures.
Two disappointingly short selections from Verdi’s Rigoletto followed: irst the bouncy “Questo e quello” and then the Prelude for Act I. Mr. Fabiano isn’t one of those industrial breathed tenors as yet and although he certainly has more than adequate lung capacity to show off his voice he also knows where to employ judicious places to break and catch for maximum effect. He also has an extraordinarily sweet spot right in the upper passaggio that gives his voice a beautiful ring and added focus.
The Flower Song from Bizet’s Carmen was next and it found him more than comfortable in the French idiom with vowels that were refreshingly clean and focused. His ascent to the B-flat on the penultimate phrase displayed an elegant use of voix mixte straight up to the top and the whole certainly bodes well for his eventual Don José.
Another respite as the orchestra gave us Bizet’s Suite no. 2 from his L’Alésienne and our tenor brought the program to a close with his party piece from Puccini’s first opera Le Villi ‘Ecco la casa’ which is one of the arias that brought him the Met prize. It serves his gifts well most especially since it is still so little known and brings unexpected pleasure to the listener because of both the unfamiliarity of the music and Mr. Fabiano’s impassioned reading. If the audience didn’t leap to its feet nearly en masse it was only because the elderly were slower to rise and needed assistance.
He didn’t make us suffer too long before he came back with Maestro Boemi and announced the “first” of his encores. Federico’s Lament from Cilea’s L’arlesiana which once again found Mr. Fabiano exploiting that beautiful upper middle of his voice and he knows how to double-clutch on the big phrases and at the finales just like many a great tenor before him. Needless to say audience demonstrations continued unabated and only Lehar’s “Dein ist mein ganzes Herz” from Das Land des Lächelns was deemed enough to temporarily sedate us again.
A small bounty of floral tributes were offered up to the stage for both gentlemen and since none of us were even showing the slightest inclination of leaving (and this in a town where people sneak out before the Liebestod to beat the traffic) Mr. Fabiano came back out and sang the Operatic National Anthem, “Nessun dorma.” Even though he sometimes comes excitingly close to the precipice of bad taste (like any good tenor should) he always showed restraint and never went too too, far.
Through all of the cheering our tenor remained becomingly modest, offerng only an the occasional thumbs up to the audience and the more familiar hand over his heart to show his appreciation. I’m sure Mr. Fabiano is well aware of the effects of his performance on his audience by now. Yet his earnestness and obvious humility makes it all the more endearing.
Through it all maestro Boemi was an alert and mindful accompanist and gave excellent support both to his soloist and the players. He also seemed to be having a hell of a good time and his high spirits were reflected in the commitment of the orchestra. Not one to really concentrate solely on tempo he really acted more as a queue master for all parts which kept everyone on high alert.
Even though I had seen and enjoyed Mr. Fabiano in two video releases already, seeing him live made me understand why his devoted fans have dubbed him “Mr. Fabulous.”
Photo: Dario Acosta