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Michael Fabiano (tenor)
Arias by Verdi & Donizetti
London Voices
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Enrique Mazzola
rec. 2018, Saint Jude-on-the-Hill, London
Sung texts with English translations enclosed
PENTATONE PTC5186750 SACD [57:03]

Born in Montclair, New Jersey in 1984, Michael Fabiano has since he graduated from the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance in 2005, steadily built an international career and appeared in leading opera houses worldwide, including the San Francisco Opera, Metropolitan Opera, Paris Opera, Teatro alla Scala, Canadian Opera Company, Teatro Real, and The Royal Opera. In 2014 he was the first singer to win the Richard Tucker Award and the Beverly Sills Artist Award in the same year. Starting out while still a student in lyrical roles like Rinuccio in Gianni Schicchi and Don Ottavio in Don Giovanni he is aware of the importance of bringing out the nuances in the music he performs, and this is immediately evident in Rodolfo’s well-known aria from Luisa Miller: Quando le sere al placido. His voice is a powerful and brilliant lirico-spinto and it rings out with great impact at the climaxes – but never at the expense of the softer nuances. His legato singing is well-developed and his enunciation is very good.

He lightens the tone for the Duke of Mantua’s hit number La donna Ŕ mobile from Rigoletto, which is sung straightforwardly and with little attempts at flexibility, but nor does he indulge in exhibitionistic freedom with the final tone held forever. In all honesty I must say that this self-conceited character stands out as rather ordinary.

These two arias are certainly standard fare, but the rest of the programme is far from the string of favourite songs that many recitals tend to be. No Celeste A´da, no Di quella pira, not even Alfredo’s aria from La traviata, which was his first role as professional singer in Klagenfurt in 2007. No, Fabiano throws his net wider and catches rarer fishes from more obscure waters. When, for instance, did you last hear Poliuto’s Fu macchiata l’onor mio from Donizetti’s Poliuto? I last heard it a year ago when I reviewed the reissue of the CBS recording from 1986 with JosÚ Carreras in the role, but out of context I can’t remember ever hearing it. And it is a good piece with lots of opportunities for a good tenor. Carreras more than 30 years ago had already lost the youthful freshness he once had. Fabiano has it aplenty and he also has the dramatic glow, which was Carreras forte still in 1986. And Fabiano can also spin a beautiful pianissimo that sounds as an integral part of the interpretation. And the end of the aria is truly brilliant. Riccardo’s (nowadays often Gustavus III’s) aria from the last act of Un ballo in maschera, is of course no rarity, and it is sung here with great warmth – he realises that he will never see Amelia again and this is a farewell – and he also finds room for a beautiful diminuendo, exquisitely executed. Nor is Edgardo’s scene from the last act of Lucia di Lammermoor unfamiliar – this is another farewell, to life this time. Edgardo is unaware of what happened at the wedding and believes that Lucia laughs by the side of her happy consort. Tu delle gioie in seno, io della morte (You amid joys, I near to death) he sings at the end of the recitative, and Fabiano sings it with such beautiful softness that one can’t help sheading a tear.

The rest of the programme consists of wonderful arias that are rarely or never exhibited in recital, whether on the concert podium or on discs. La forza del destino is played not infrequently and the music is marvellous but it is a dark story and Alvaro in the aria sung here is distressed. It is not one of the catchiest of Verdi’s arias, but Fabiano makes the most of its darkness. Donizetti’s Maria di Rohan is certainly not standard fare, but it belongs to the composer’s later works where he moves away from Rossini’s and Bellini’s bel canto style and heralds the young Verdi. In fact the whole recital aims at illustrating the connexion between Donizetti and Verdi. This short aria deals again with love and death. Chalais sings Amor ci univa in terra, Ci unisca amore in Ciel! (Love on earth united us, love will join us in heaven!). In Ernani’s case vengeance is on the agenda, to revenge the death of his slain father, and the chorus support him. Ernani is one of Verdi’s earliest operas and the three remaining also belong to what he himself called “the galley years”, when he had to work hard for his bread and butter. Jacopo’s aria from I due Foscari is actually one of his most beautiful melodies and it is surprising that it isn’t heard more often in recital. Sung as beautifully as here it would be a showstopper. Oberto was Verdi’s first opera, which he composed when he was 25, and commentators in the past have tended to dismiss it as immature. A closer look at it, and seeing a good production, gives a more positive impression. Riccardo’s aria, short but beautiful, is sung near the end when he has killed Oberto and is ashamed and remorseful. He prays to heaven: Ciel pietoso, ciel clemente. Se pregarti ancor mi lice. Deh! Perdona a un infelice! (Piteous God, merciful God, if you still allow me to beg you. Forgive a miserable man!). Possibly indebted as much to Bellini as to Donizetti, this is certainly anything but immature, and Fabiano gives it a heartfelt reading.

The final aria is from Verdi’s twelfth opera Il corsaro, composed in the winter of 1847-48, rather near the end of his galley period and within a couple of years his real breakthrough was to come with the trilogy Rigoletto, Il trovatore and La traviata. As a whole Il corsaro has had bad press, but individual numbers have stood the test of time, and one of the best is Corrado’s aria in the first act. Corrado is a pirate chieftain and here he tells about his former life: Tutto parea sorridere al viver mio primiero (Everything smiled at me in my previous life) but things went wrong and now he is a pirate and in the cabaletta he triggers his crew before they sail off to attack a Muslim city. The andante aria is beautiful and the cabaletta is a rousing piece that isn’t inferior to the Trovatore stretta. It is hard to think of a better final number, and Michael Fabiano has all the vitality to make it tell.

The London Philharmonic under Enrique Mazzola and, in some numbers, the London Voices provide eminent support, the quality of the recording is excellent. Any hang-ups? Well, none when it comes to the performances and the presentation, but the problem is the recital format. It is almost impossible for one singer, however good, to create believable individuals of the various characters that are depicted. Not even Maria Callas in her heydays was able to differentiate her role characters on a recital disc of comparable length. Michael Fabiano is very good in this respect, and when listening to one or two numbers at a time the problem doesn’t exist. There has been a trend the last few years to invite a guest or two for variety and for the possibility to include duets or other lengthy scenes. Normally, when off reviewing duties, I hardly ever play a recital CD from beginning to end, and hopefully the average listener does the same. For those this disc should be a very attractive proposition. Michael Fabiano has all the prerequisites for a great career (well, he is already in the top layer): a beautiful voice with both steel and honey, he is careful with nuances (his pianissimos are superb), he handles the texts well, he has taste and he can thrill an audience with brilliant top notes. The choice of repertoire also reveals an inquisitive mind (one incentive to buy the disc can for many readers be the rarities). I’m certainly looking forward to hearing more of Michael Fabiano.

G÷ran Forsling

Previous review: Michael Cookson

Giuseppe VERDI (1813 – 1901)
Luisa Miller:
1. Oh! Fede negar potessi ... Quando le sere al placido [5:25]
2. La donna Ŕ mobile [2:01]
Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797 – 1848)
3. Veleno Ŕ l’aura ch’io respiro ... Fu macchiato l’onor mio ... Sfolgor˛ divino raggio [5:56]
Giuseppe VERDI
Un ballo in maschera:
4. Forse la soglia attinse ... Ma se m’e forza perderti [6:27]
Lucia di Lammermoor:
5. Tomba degli avi miei ... Fra poco a me ricovero [7:04]
Giuseppe VERDI
La forza del Destino:
6. Qual sangue sparsi ... S’affronti la morte [4:21]
Maria di Rohan:
7. Alma soave e cara [1:49]
Giuseppe VERDI
8. Odi il voto ... Sprezzo la vita [6:48]
I due Foscari:
9. Notto, perpetua notte ... Non maledirmi [5:21]
10. Ciel, che feci! ... Ciel pietoso [3:30]
Il Corsaro:
11. Ah si, ben dite ... Tutto parea sorridere ... Pronti siate a seguitarmi [7:21]

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