Michigan Opera Theatre launches its new season Saturday with a gala concert, “An Evening with Michael Fabiano.” The renowned tenor, 35, is currently starring in “Manon” at New York’s Metropolitan Opera.
Saturday’s festivities will also celebrate George Shirley, the first African-American tenor to play a leading role at the Met. The evening will also include performances by soprano Leah Crocetto, tenor Rodrick Dixon, and a dancers from the American Ballet Theatre.
The Detroit News sat down with Fabiano in Detroit’s Siren Hotel to talk George Shirley, helping kids, and umpiring baseball games.
You grew up outside Minneapolis. How’d you happen to come to the University of Michigan?
Michael Fabiano: “Luck. I applied to a lot of great universities, and got rejected by almost all. But none of the others were for music. It was divine intervention, I swear.”
Did you know you had a good voice when younger?
“People said I did, but I never got cast as the lead in shows. I was in the choir, and had a wonderful choir teacher. But it wasn’t my focus at all.”
At Michigan, you studied with George Shirley, who will be honored Saturday. What was that like?
“George is maybe the most inspiring person I’ve ever met, and one of the most generous. When I first started with him, he said ‘Do you understand the talent you have? You have a moral obligation to share that with the public.’ At 18, hearing that – it’s a lot.”
Who are your favorite composers?
“Scriabin, Tchaikovsky, Verdi.”
Have you ever performed at the Detroit Opera House?
What are some of your favorite opera houses?
“The Met. It has the best acoustics in the world. I don’t struggle on that stage, whereas at the San Francisco Opera — and I love that company — the acoustics are not good. That’s not a slight – they know that.”
You umpired baseball games for years. How’d that happen?
“Yes, from 14-24. I played baseball and loved it, but ran bases like I had a piano on my back. I was overweight till 20, and didn’t know I was gay. I got bullied a lot. Umpiring helped. I ended up umpiring kids several years older than me, and nobody batted an eye. It was also a great way of making money.”
Besides music, what else inspires you?
“I have a foundation called ArtSmart. We give free, weekly, one-on-one voice lessons to underprivileged kids across the country. We’re just four years old. By the end of May, we’ll have taught 30,000 lessons.”
>Are you training kids in opera?
“No – that’s the key. Three-quarters of our mentors are classically trained, but the rest are in music theater, jazz, or are music educators. We encourage kids to study classically, but if they want to do pop or hip-hop, that’s their call.”
Do you expect the kids to become musicians?
“No, most won’t, and that’s OK. We want to demonstrate that music study helps all their other studies. We want them to go to college and have a great life, and know the trigger for a lot of kids is culture and the arts.”