Opera tenor Michael Fabiano thrills with vivid recital at the Kennedy Center

November 15, 2013

There were four opera arias on Michael Fabiano’s recital program on Wednesday night. This is an old-fashioned thing to do. These days, most singers focus on recital repertoire — songs written with piano accompaniment, to be performed in small spaces — and leave the opera for the opera stage.

But Fabiano is an old-fashioned tenor, an opera singer to the tips of his fingers. He has an old-fashioned sound: a thrilling, golden voice that set the walls of the Terrace Theater ringing.

He sings with an understanding of how Italian opera goes: the exhilaration and the passion and the tangible sense of wallowing in the sound a voice is able to make. I so often hear eager, earnest young artists who are trying oh so hard to be opera singers. Fabiano is the real thing, from his warm, rich low notes to his vivid, bronze top ones. Any performance he gave that didn’t include opera arias would be an imperfect introduction.

He’s 29 years old, and he doesn’t know how to pace himself. The opening aria was “Angelo casto e bel,” from Donizetti’s “Il duca d’Alba,” which I know best from Caruso’s melting, limpid, white sound on a 1915 recording. Fabiano, supported by the strong and colorful playing of Danielle Orlando, attacked even this with full-on passion. It was not especially gentle, but it was free and flowing and wonderful. By the end of the evening, midway through a set of Strauss songs, he was sounding a little tired in “Allerseelen” and “Cäcilie,” but it wasn’t the tiredness of singing with poor technique, just the tiredness of putting every bit of yourself on stage for a good hour and a half. (Tiredness didn’t stop him from giving four encores to a whooping audience.)

Recitals are in good taste. Opera is not, always. It involves big emotions and big sounds, and it can be messy. There were surely some Vocal Arts DC patrons in the audience who like their recitals a little more refined.

Which is not to say that Fabiano isn’t tasteful, or that he doesn’t have range. His first half stuck to Italy, though hardly standard fare: a set of little-known, perfectly pleasant songs by Toscanini; a set of songs by Puccini, including two that presaged better-known opera arias; and an aria from Puccini’s early “Le Villi.” In the second half, he moved out of his comfort zone but into repertory better known to a recital audience: after a burning account of an aria from Massenet’s “Herodiade,” he offered some beautiful singing in a set of Duparc songs before the Strauss set, in which he admirably resisted the temptation to bang out “Zueignung,” as many singers do, at the top of his lungs. Songs may not be Fabiano’s home turf, but he explores them with tremendous style and musicality and a real sense of the words.

He finished, though, back in his wheelhouse, with a preview of coming attractions: an aria from Verdi’s “Il corsaro,” which he will sing with the Washington Concert Opera in March. Even tired, it sounded pretty glorious. I’m not sure what the opera world will make of this kind of talent in years to come, but I’m looking forward to finding out.

Anne Midgette came to the Washington Post in 2008, when she consolidated her various cultural interests under the single title of chief classical music critic. She blogs at The Classical Beat.
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