American tenor Michael Fabiano doesn’t fit the opera singer stereotype. The 32-year-old’s passions include baseball (he’s a former professional umpire), automobiles (he reviews them on his blog) and airplanes (he flies his own). He also posts regularly on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram about his performances as well as his opinions on exercise, books and politics.
But when Fabiano begins singing the first selection on his Tuesday recital for North Carolina Opera, there will be no question about his status as an international opera star. The intensity of his interpretations and the size of his voice have thrilled audiences around the U.S. and Europe for a decade.
Earlier this month, Fabiano performed in his first starring role in a Metropolitan Opera HD transmission, Alfredo in Giuseppe Verdi’s “La Traviata,” which was beamed to 2,000 theaters in 70 countries.
Two days after that performance, Fabiano spoke by phone from New York about modern opera stagings, his use of social media and his recital program here. The following are edited excerpts from that conversation.
Q: The Met’s “La Traviata” production strips down the story (often literally) to focus on the lovers, Alfredo and Violetta. With its minimalist setting, constant activity and sensual interactions, how did you adjust to such a radically different version?
A: I can adapt to any new ideas as long as the integrity of the music is paramount. I feel obligated to keep an open mind but also to question ideas that veer too far from the composer’s intent. Even though I had to put on my trousers and shirt while I sang my big second act aria, I think the Met’s “Traviata” is a smart production.
Q: You’ve performed in several HD showings and DVD videos here and in Europe. Do you prepare any differently for these?
A: I still sing the way I usually would, but I’m more conscious of my eyes and my gestures because of the camera close-ups. Normally I use larger arm and body movements when playing theaters like the Met that holds 4,000 people.
Q: You’ve embraced social media as a way to connect with audiences and fans, posting daily photos, videos and commentaries. Why do you take the time to do so?
A: We’re in a different world today. If you don’t have transparency, the public is less engaged with you. Some of my best postings have come through suggestions from fans and friends. A recent one about packing tips came from people wanting to know how I handle all my traveling. But I’ve learned to set specific quotients for being online and I try not to do it at other times.
Q: It’s often stated that opera is dying art. What do you think?
A: Opera is alive and well, but it’s changing. There are many new ideas for building audiences. For example, Opera Philadelphia’s next season is using the binge approach by creating a festival with five productions and a recital over just 12 days. And San Francisco Opera has started lab productions and pop-up performances in cool spaces.
Q: What adjustments do you make when singing a recital?
A: Recitals allow me to form an intimate dialogue with the audience. I’m no longer on a stage with costumes and sets. I have to communicate nearly two-dozen pieces, each with different ideas. It’s tricky because I have to reset myself for each new environment, such as a seaside reflection on life or a war’s battlefield.
Q: What pieces on your N.C. Opera program are you particularly happy about presenting?
A: Because I like singing in French, there are five beautiful Henri Duparc songs, along with an aria by Jules Massenet and four Victor Hugo poems set to music by Franz Liszt. I’m also programming some lesser-known songs and arias by Giacomo Puccini.
What: Michael Fabiano in recital
Where: Fletcher Opera Theater, Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South St., Raleigh
When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 28
Info: 919-792-3853 or ncopera.org