Meet Tenor, Teacher & Opera Star Michael Fabiano
By Emily Wilson
Tenor Michael Fabiano is no joke – he has been compared to Luciano Pavarotti, performed at leading opera houses around the world (including the Metropolitan Opera, Teatro Real, Opéra National de Paris, and La Scala), and in 2014, he was the first person to win both the Richard Tucker and the Beverly Sills Artist awards in the same year.
But Fabiano, who just opened at London’s Royal Opera as Rodolfo in La bohème, and is here to perform his first Des Grieux in Massenet’s Manon at the San Francisco Opera, is more than just a beautiful voice. He wants to do something both for musicians looking for work and for kids at schools that don’t have music programs- so he started ArtSmart, at schools in Newark, Philadelphia, and now at San Francisco’s James Lick Middle School. What sets his organization apart, Fabiano says, is one-on-one voice training. He has all sorts of ideas – wanting to expand to three schools in San Francisco, offering a $1,000 scholarship to students based on a point system, and setting up a kind of online platform.
Fabiano is all about planning and thinking ahead in what he does. When it comes to getting ready for his roles, he does not mess around. And it’s not just working on his voice —he also studies literature, background and the context of the opera he’s working on. Like going to Paris to visit Saint Sulpice, a key place in Manon. Fabiano is intense – but he’s careful not to blow out his voice.
“When I learned Don Carlo, I didn’t do it in six months – I learned it over four years, and I kept the score next to bed, but I wouldn’t study it for six hours, I would look at one page for 15 minutes or 10 minutes,” he said. “Vocal study is imperative, but it’s imperative how I do it. My first teacher, George Shirley, taught me the best way to study is in small clumps. I never sang in two or three or four hours of time, I would study for 15 minutes, take a break, study for 15 minutes and take a break, so I can work music into my throat.”
Fabiano brings that intensity, dedication and rigorous preparation to other things he does – like flying. Fascinated by aviation since he was a kid, he got a private pilot’s license two years ago after studying out of a book and attending classes at flight schools where he could depending on his travel schedule. He says he’s noticed a big difference onstage since he’s started flying.
“It takes an immense amount of focus to protect yourself from danger and in order to keep the plane up there were so many things I had to pay attention to, and the result is you’re only thinking of flying. It allowed my head to just clear itself. It taught me to just be free on stage and to not let anything else enter the ether when I’m performing.” he said. “The second thing is I just have one or two fingers on the stick. That reminded me the plane will fly itself. The voice will sing itself if you just let it rather than making it sing. Sometimes I forgot that. If I just set off on a course in a night, I’ll sing fine. That was a really big jump in my growth as a musician.”
See Michael Fabiano perform as Des Grieux in the amazing MASSENET’S MANON, NOVEMBER 4–22