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Power and Beauty

Elisabeth Murdoch Hall, Melbourne Recital Centre
02/12/2023 -  
Giacomo Puccini: Inno a Diana – Terra e mare – Canto d’anime – Tosca: “E lucevan le stelle”
Henri Duparc: La Vie antérieure – Le Manoir de Rosemonde – Phydilé
Francesco Paolo Tosti: L’ultima canzone – Ideale – Per morire – L’alba sepàra dalla luce l’ombra
Francesco Cilea: L’Arlesiana: “Lamento di Federico”
Jules Massenet: Hérodiade: “Ne pouvant réprimer les élans de la foi... Adieu donc, vains objets”
Umberto Giordano: Andrea Chénier: “Come un bel dì di maggio”
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: Yevgeny Onégin, Op. 24: “Kuda, kuda”
Giuseppe Verdi: Il corsaro: “Ah! si, ben dite... Tutto parea sorridere”

Michael Fabiano (Tenor), Laurent Philippe (Piano)

M. Fabiano (© Courtesy Opera Australia)

Returning to Australia for the third time to appear in Opera Australia’s forth‑coming production of Adriana Lecouvreur, acclaimed American tenor Michael Fabiano made his Melbourne debut last evening in a recital of songs and arias drawn from his varied repertoire.

A diverse audience enjoyed the warm sculpted wooden interior of the beautiful Melbourne Recital Centre, accentuating the glistening silhouette of the Steinway and overseen by the honeyed wood engravings of the creative spirit, the Rainbow Serpent. This is a stunning venue for such a performance with brilliant acoustic qualities and intimate proximity to the performer.

The programme was selected to paint a dynamic portrait of Mr Fabiano’s instrument and it delivered superbly. From rousing fanfare‑like declarations to intensely dramatic, introspective musings, his voice ran a gamut of emotions, characterisations and dramatic potential. The opening set of three Puccini art songs began with a vocal clarion‑call as a statement of intent. Launching immediately into this intense piece signalled that we could expect a technician at the peak of his powers. It was finished as quickly as it had begun and drew from the audience cheers and enthusiastic applause and this was the first offering of an immensely engaging recital.

Michael Fabiano has a wonderful voice; complex in colouring and luxuriantly nuanced. He frequently demonstrated a wide dynamic range and imbued each piece with delicate shading and detail. Hinting at the riches to come in the second half of the programme, an early operatic piece gave insight into the dramatic potential of the performer. Cavaradossi’s “E lucevan le stelle” was impassioned, desperate and love‑struck. It was clear that the opera stage is where this artist shines and yet, in recital, we had a delightfully close encounter with the technique that produces the onstage magic.

The three Duparc songs gave snatched glimpses into the poetic, impressionistic world of the late nineteenth century. Infused with romantic images of ardent kisses and majestic grottoes, these songs are like light and shade. They require of the singer the ability to languish, to dream and to rise in vivid contrast to the challenging powers of nature through heavy chords from the accompaniment and lilting, pianissimo finishes. This small set was a dramatically different impression to the opening.

The first half of the program concluded with four songs by Paolo Tosti and the distinction could not have been more evident. Vibrant, lively and inherently Italian, these pieces revealed a first class showman. Mr Fabiano “sold” these songs energetically, leaving the stage to wild applause and cheers and having shaped a representation of talents which was varied, satisfying and powerful.

The latter half of the program confirmed what we already knew: the opera stage is “home” for this performer. These five selections offer glimpses into the broad repertoire and stage presence of Mr Fabiano.

Federico’s Lament from L’Arlesiana was heart‑rending in its intensity and pathos. This aria requires concentrated restraint through which we understand the depth of sorrow and the power of Federico’s emotions. As in the earlier songs, darkness and light, gentleness and strength all governed by absolute control were the hallmarks of Mr Fabiano’s rendition.

The brooding darkness of Jean’s aria from Hérodiade gave similar insight into the ability of the singer to transfix an audience and to delicately lead to the intense declaration at the conclusion. We felt every pulse of the rumbling accompaniment and each heartbeat of the condemned prisoner through this compelling performance.

Perhaps the piece most awaited in this selection of operatic highlights was Lensky’s aria from Yevgeny Onegin which this reviewer had the privilege of seeing in London with Nicole Car and Dimitry Hvorostovsky. Then, it was lauded as a superb portrayal of the tormented poet, here in recital, pared of the stage setting and orchestra, it is no less gripping. Sensitive, deeply troubled and apprehensive of the future, Lensky is no starry‑eyed dreamer in Fabiano’s hands. His distress is real as are his fear and love. This performance drew a huge response from the audience and again encouraged thoughts of the skilled artistry of stagecraft at Mr Fabiano’ disposal.

The Verdi and Giordano arias showcased dramatic intensity and lead perfectly into the two encore items offered as the hall erupted into unrestrained applause at the conclusion of the main program.

Mr Fabiano declared Un ballo in maschera to be his favourite opera in which to perform and his rendition of Ricardo’s final act aria was thrilling in its passion. But it was Puccini’s “Nessun dorma” which brought the house to screaming, standing ovation.

This recital was an engaging and intellectually stimulating program which gave a tantalising view of the performer’s acting abilities as well as the beauty and power of his voice. It is to be hoped that he returns to Melbourne soon and hopefully on the opera stage.

Gregory Pritchard



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