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Michael Fabiano crouches on stage, dressed as a young Faust in a white flowing shirt

Interview

Superstar tenor Michael Fabiano is more than his voice

Michael Fabiano’s voice has taken him places he could never have dreamed of as an all-American boy growing up in Minnesota. In 2007, Fabiano beat out thousands of other hopefuls to win the Met National Council Auditions and since then, has ticked milestone after milestone off the list.

But the chiselled-jawed tenor wishes to be known for more than the voice which is making him famous. A baseball enthusiast, car-aficionado (he even blogs about them) and ex high-school debating champion, he is a man with many strings to his bow.

“I don’t think much about my daily life as a singer. I am a man that has a voice, and a mind and a lot of things.”

On that note, Fabiano isn’t particularly interested in those he terms “singer-singers”.

“I really love working with people that are interested in more than just singing. I enjoy people that have ideas, opinions about society. People that care about how their voice impacts the will of others.”

michael fabiano

Michael Fabiano. Photo by Arielle Doneson

It is as though he is anxious not to be put in a box, or at least to have the chance to craft the box he is put in. Perhaps it springs from his experience as a participant in the documentary The Audition – at the tender age of 22, as he vied for a win at the Met Council Auditions, his life was put on show in a carefully edited hour that brought out his intensity, drive and competitive spirit.

None of those labels are inaccurate, but they perhaps left out his easy charm, intelligence and willingness to collaborate with colleagues.

Years later, the promise he showed at those auditions has blossomed into what critics and journalists are calling a meteoric rise to fame, the start of a career that could rival Caruso’s.

He can’t identify the ‘moment’ when he knew he’d made it, although it’s a question he is asked all the time. He lists lots of “wonderful experiences” along the way – making his debut at the English National Opera singing the Duke in Rigoletto, singing Verdi and Donizetti at houses as prestigious as the Metropolitan Opera and the Paris Opera, singing alongside superstar Renee Fleming at San Francisco Opera. Across America and Europe, houses are clamouring for the young tenor. He made his Glyndebourne debut as Alfredo in La Traviata this year, and will open the festival next year in the rarely performed Poliuto.

By anyone’s standards, it’s a brilliant start to an opera singer’s career, capped off by winning two of the opera world’s most prestigious awards: the Richard Tucker and the Beverly Sills Artist Award in 2014. Worth a cool $100,000 combined, they’ve never before been won by a single artist in the same year. But then along came Michael Fabiano.

Opera Australia’s Artistic Director Lyndon Terracini jumped at the chance to cast him. “He’s one of the greatest young tenors in the world today,” he says.

A steward of the music

Michael Fabiano tenor

Michael Fabiano. Photo by Arielle Doneson

But Fabiano is quick to pour water on the sweeping superlatives. “What people perceive as the truth and what I perceive as the truth … they can be different,” he says, thoughtfully. “I see myself on a trajectory that’s continually growing. I am a student of music, of the arts. I don’t see myself as arriving at a great mountain peak, I see myself as on a beautiful hill. I hope some day that I get to the top, to the light, but I don’t know when that will be. Life can come and go in a matter of seconds. So I just want to learn as much as I can and continue to be a steward of the music.”

His respect for his voice – and the obligations it comes with – is impressive. “God gave me this voice and I ought to share it with everybody,” he explains. “It’s my responsibility to give back in the greatest measure.”

Determined not to “fall in line” with any accepted paths for young singers, Fabiano has focussed on creating his own path, with the guidance of a coach, a teacher and a publicist. “I study every day. Sometimes I will follow in the path of what is said young singers should do. Sometimes I don’t. It’s my way, and it’s been working.”

He doesn’t want to “get lost”, he explains, which can happen to young singers who just fall in line.

“That doesn’t mean people shouldn’t study hard and take care of their instrument,” he adds. “I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, I don’t do any drugs. I do not party before or rarely after a performance. I treat what I believe God has given me with the greatest reverence.”

Self-assured and willing to speak his mind, Fabiano says he enjoys directors that are willing to collaborate, not just impose their concept. “I’m not a pawn. I’m open to ideas, but at the end of the day I’m the one on stage making it happen. It’s important that in the rehearsal process it’s not just one person inflicting their will on another person.”

What lies ahead

His goals for the immediate future are measured and mature ones: seeing the roles he is already performing develop, singing on four different continents, learning to adapt to different places, even more than he has had to already. “And I’m navigating the waters of moving from being a lyric tenor to being a tenor with … a little more.”

Fabiano speaks with great passion about his art, because singing is not something he does just for himself. “I want to impact others,” he explains. “If I got joy purely out of singing, I would just sing in the shower. Opera is this island of sound and art, and the joy for an opera singer should come from being able to share it with everybody, to help people escape from their own lives, to escape to that place of pure aural and optical sensation.”

By Jennifer Williams