Michael Fabiano Verdi Donizetti Pentatone, out Fri
It is often said that the worst advice you can give anyone is to be yourself. But on the evidence of this fine debut album, it’s not true for the young American tenor Michael Fabiano.
Fabiano, now a well-established international artist at the tender age of 35, could have celebrated his new contract with Pentatone with an album of popular bits and pieces.
But no. He decided instead to show his mettle with a fascinating album covering the quarter-century between the mid-1830s and the early 1860s, when middle-period Verdi succeeded late Donizetti at the cutting edge of Italian opera, moving it along, as the liner notes say, ‘from bel canto into a richer, more dramatic musical universe’.
Michael Fabiano decided to show his mettle with a fascinating album covering the quarter-century between the mid-1830s and the early 1860s
Fabiano himself calls it a ‘paradigm shift’, as ‘the beautiful line of Bellini’ and the ‘crispness of Rossini’ gave way to ‘the fire-laden later works of Donizetti’. On the back of which, Verdi’s splendid middle-period operas emerged, to take Italian opera on to new musical and dramatic heights.
Landmark Verdi masterpieces such as Ernani (1844), Rigoletto (1851), Un Ballo In Maschera (1859) and La Forza Del Destino (first version 1862) feature, in juxtaposition to late Donizetti masterpieces Lucia Di Lammermoor (1835), Poliuto (1848), which Fabiano sang at Glyndebourne a few years ago, and Maria Di Rohan (1843).
There are plenty of memorable tunes here, and many dramatic moments that require Fabiano to display his sterling qualities both as a lyric tenor and as an intensely dramatic one.
IT’S A FACT
Fabiano was a baseball umpire from 14 to 24. Experience of abuse from spectators, he says, taught him to keep his cool as an opera singer.
The only concession to popular taste comes with a vivid account of La Donna E Mobile (Rigoletto), which Fabiano has sung at Covent Garden and is right now bidding farewell to in Berlin.
Fabiano doesn’t think the Duke of Mantua is an engaging enough character to waste more of his career singing, and I agree.
It’s a typically tough-minded judgment from a singer acutely conscious of the world outside opera, and as deeply committed to politics on both sides of the Atlantic as he is to music.
I suspect he will give opera his best shot for another 20 years, and then seek a future in politics.
Meanwhile, this album is a first-class visiting card: a tribute not just to Fabiano’s own artistry but to Pentatone, which has lined him up here with the London Philharmonic, whose operatic credentials are burnished every summer at Glyndebourne, and a first-class operatic conductor, Enrique Mazzola.
Jess Gillam Rise Decca, out now
Years ago, ambitious young priests grew beards, donned jumpers and played guitars in the aisles of their half-empty churches to try to attract a young congregation.
Now Radio 3 is up to the same trick, recruiting Jess Gillam, a funny, spiky 20-year-old with a street accent you could cut with a knife, in the hope of promoting the station’s cred among young people.
Will she be more successful than those beatnik priests? Too early to say. But one thing is certain: she’s a fine saxophonist. Her debut album is a visiting card for her talents and range, with pop tunes (Kate Bush’s This Woman’s Work and David Bowie’s Where Are We Now?) and classical composers, from John Dowland and Alessandro Marcello to Kurt Weill and Shostakovich.
Radio 3 recruited Jess Gillam, a funny, spiky 20-year-old with a street accent you could cut with a knife, in the hope of promoting the station’s cred among young people
Another piece, RANT!, composed for her by her teacher John Harle, is intended to show off ‘her energy, her sound and her presence’.
This entire album certainly does that, though 50 minutes really is short weight, and the 14 tracks here are too bitty for a truly satisfying listen.
But it’s nevertheless a good advert for an irrepressible talent who should go far.