Montclair native Michael Fabiano starring in ‘Tosca’ at the Met Opera
When the curtain rises on the Metropolitan Opera’s production of Puccini’s “Tosca” on Tuesday, Oct. 4, it will mark a milestone for Montclair native Michael Fabiano, who will be portraying Tosca’s lover, Cavaradossi, for the first time on the Met stage.
Fabiano, 38, who first took on the role of Cavaradossi at the Opera National de Paris in 2021, said he appreciates the significance of the occasion.
“My seven performances of the run of ‘Tosca’ here will be the Met’s one-thousandth performance of ‘Tosca,’” the tenor said. “So it'll be kind of a momentous moment for ‘Tosca.’”
He elaborated: “‘Tosca’ was written at the turn of the century, in 1900, and this piece has reached the greatest of the great singers of history. And so I think it comes with a moral and social responsibility to do my best job in this work, because I have to live up to the greatness standards of those that preceded me.”
To that end, Fabiano has been spending much of his time studying – which can include vocal exercises – in addition to the Met rehearsals. That means he has had to pass on spending time with friends and even attending this year’s Met gala.
“My first and foremost burden is to serve the music, do Puccini justice, and thereby do the public justice,” Fabiano said. “I’m not looking for the approval of individuals but really looking to do great work at all costs.”
Fabiano’s work has been hailed for years. At age 22, he was a winner of the 2007 Metropolitan Opera’s National Council Auditions. The competition that year was the subject of a documentary, “The Audition.”
In 2014, he received the Beverly Sills Artist Award and the Richard Tucker Award, becoming the first singer to win both awards in the same year. In 2015, he received Australia’s prestigious Helpmann Award for the Best Male Performance in an Opera for his role as the disillusioned doctor in Gounod’s “Faust.”
Recently, he was named one of the winners of the first edition Teatro Real Award given to artists who have stood out in a special way for their support to the institution throughout the 2020-21 season.
Early in his career, Fabiano was labeled “the young tenor,” a distinction he is not fond of.
“By certain people's standards, I'm young because I'm still under 40,” he said. “But I've had a full-time career for 15 years now.”
In “The Audition” documentary, one of the judges said of the 22-year-old Fabiano, “He's either going to be fantastic or dead" in five years.
Fabiano responded: “I'm still standing, and I say that with a smirk on my face and a glimmer in my eye. I think there's a reticence toward people that are competent and strong in our world, especially today.
“I think people are hesitant. They think it's narcissistic. I always create a defining line between ego and narcissism. There's a clear difference. And I am very self-reflective. I care deeply about the music, I care deeply about what I do.”
Fabiano’s early success in opera is not something he imagined as a boy growing up in Montclair, Verona and Cedar Grove. Although his family was involved in music and music education, he was more interested in baseball, and remains a Yankees fan today. He was a baseball umpire for 13 years and still can discuss the intricacies of the infield fly rule.
At one point his family moved to suburban Minneapolis, where he graduated from high school and was a champion debater. It wasn’t until he entered the University of Michigan that he discovered and began to develop his talent as an opera singer.
At Michigan, he studied with George Shirley, a tenor who in the 1960s was one of the first African American men to sing lead roles at the Met.
Fabiano “sings with such passion — that’s one of the things that makes people concerned,” Shirley told The New York Times in 2017. “Because whatever Michael does, it’s 3,000 percent. There’s no backing off. That’s his personality. But so far, so good. He walks to the beat of his own drummer, and so far, the beat is solid.”
Although Fabiano is committed to opera, he is far from single-minded. He has his pilot’s license and flies his own plane.
“When I fly, it reminds me a lot about my own singing,” he said. “I always draw the comparison. When I fly a plane, the only thing I can do is fly a plane. It taught me a lot about singing, because in the past when I was younger and more scattered, I'd be onstage and my mind would be in a few different places at once. And it could lead to scattered performance.
“Now when I'm onstage, I'm doing my performance, and I am 1,000% committed to my craft and nothing else gets in my way.”
He is also co-founder and executive director of ArtSmart, a nonprofit with the mission “to transform the lives of youth in under-resourced communities across the U.S. through tuition-free music lessons and mentorship by paid, professional artists.”
“We work largely one on one,” Fabiano said, “because we've discovered that when there's a relationship between a young adult and a teenager, a mentoring relationship, the possibility of academic and emotional growth is immense.”
ArtSmart has 28 partner schools and 55 mentors, according to its website. It has provided 24,000 music lessons since 2016.
When asked if ArtSmart focuses on students who want to sing opera, Fabiano said no.
“We're teaching people how to be good musicians,” he said. “That's it. If they want to sing pop music, if they want to sing musical theater, if they want to sing classical music, if they want to do whatever it is, we will teach them because we find that the muse of music stimulates the amygdala and the other side of the brain that gives them inspiration in everything else that they do.”
Asked for his advice to young people in Montclair who may have aspirations in any area, Fabiano said that they should not wait.
“I have a quote that I often say, ‘Don't wait in line in life.’ … I was told throughout my entire career as an opera singer: ‘Michael, wait your turn. Michael, don't do the competition for the Met. Michael, don't do this job yet. Don't go here yet. It's too early for you to sing this music.’”
Instead, he said, go at your own pace.
As for his own aspirations, Fabiano said: “I would say that I'm an accomplished singer that has a lot still to learn, and a lot of growth still to do. I think for myself, there's a lot of learning still to do.
“And I look forward to learning. I want you to know that I love to study. Studying for me is still extremely exciting. And I think some of the greatest engineers and philosophers were studying until they died.”
In addition, he said, he is enjoying his work with ArtSmart, which is growing quickly. “I enjoy leading people,” he said. “And I enjoy inspiring people to do great things in life. And you’ll see more of that coming in a bigger way.”