Houston Chronicle – Michael Fabiano, one of the most sought-after stars in opera, embodies a Hollywoodesque charisma.
The 32-year-old tenor has a piercing gaze and keen fashion sense, and he speaks in strong, declarative sentences, pounding the table in front of him and asking if he can shed his blazer when the discussion gets heated.
As the titular lead in “Faust,” the classic tale of selling one’s soul, opening Friday at the Houston Grand Opera, Fabiano has a lot to get fired up about.
His career is well documented – featuring acclaimed performances with the Metropolitan Opera, the San Francisco Opera and Milan, Italy’s La Scala – as well
as the energy he plans to bring to Houston as he stars alongside soprano Ana María Martínez. But instead of chatting about himself, the singer talks about something else he’s passionate about – the failings of public education.
Photo: Dave Rossman, Freelance
As a co-founder of the new nonprofit ArtSmart, Fabiano is helping inner-city schools with low graduation rates and little music in their curriculum. He’s frustrated with how the American education system is failing its kids, particularly those with potential in music but no opportunity. So he decided to match high school students with recent music graduates – top-rung musicians who are in debt and without an established career – for free weekly lessons.
ArtSmart’s pilot program launched in September at East Side High School in Newark, N.J. Fabiano talked about what this initiative means to him, as well as a smattering of other subjects, including being bullied, the merits of an individualized public education system and how flying planes helped him better understand singing.
Q: You grew up partially in Newark, where ArtSmart launched. What was school like for you?
A: I was fortunate. I had good teachers. I definitely was bullied when I was younger.
A: I was overweight. Being a heavy kid young was tough. That was omnipresent. When I got to college, I just decided, no more, I don’t want to be heavy anymore. I lost 90 pounds, and that was it.
Q: How did you do that?
A: Changing my diet, no more drinking, lots of running. It took maybe nine months. That was it.
Q: In New Jersey, do you remember being inspired by any of the teachers?
A: To be clear, I lived in New Jersey until I was 11. Then I moved to Minneapolis. We lived there for eight years. Then I went to the University of Michigan, and I went to school for my post-undergrad in Philadelphia.