For many Windy City opera fans, it has taken an unconscionably long time for the internationally acclaimed singer Michael Fabiano to make his debut at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. So there was much excitement when the Lyric announced that the gay American tenor would star as Rodolfo in its new co-production of La boheme this month and again in January.
"It's quite simple, but it's beautiful," said Fabiano about British director Richard Jones' take on Puccini's classic 1896 opera.
Fabiano previously starred as Rodolfo when Jones' production debuted last year at the Royal Opera House Covent Garden. Fabiano's London performance was also captured for a recently released DVD.
For the split Chicago run, Fabiano is joined by Italian soprano Maria Agresta as the sickly seamstress Mimi and Australian soprano Danielle de Niese as the gold-digging flirt Musetta. Both sopranos starred in a London revival of the same production this past summer.
Also making a Lyric debut with La boheme is Domingo Hindoyan, a Venezuelan-Swiss conductor who will keep pace for the opera's poor artists as they all sing about love and loss in 1840s Paris.
"La boheme is a timeless opera, so I really think that as much as people try to do modern or strange takes on it, it's important to keep some element of relatability in the characters," Fabiano said. "Richard does that for sure."
Fabiano, a native of Hoboken, New Jersey, largely came onto the radar of opera fans when he was named one of six winners of the 2007 Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions. That year was significant since Fabiano and fellow winners like soprano Amber Wagner, mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton and tenor Alek Shrader were all captured by director Susan Froemke for her 2009 behind-the-scenes documentary The Audition.
Fabiano projected lots of self confidence ( some would say outright arrogance ) in interviews for the documentary. But as a winner, Fabiano's tactics to calm with his nerves and get himself psyched up before his performance all clearly worked.
"It was a snapshot of a moment in my life in which I was really young and inexperienced," said Fabiano about The Audition. "For me, it's not a defining moment."
Indeed, as Fabiano's opera career has grown, he has gone onto win other accolades. In 2014, Fabiano had the distinction of being the first singer to win both the Beverly Sills Artist Award and the Richard Tucker Award in the same year.
Fabiano was also recently signed to an exclusive recording contract with the European label Pentatonea rarity in these days when many opera fans worry about the state of the classical music industry.
"Even in a generation not devoid of extraordinary singers, Michael Fabiano clearly stands out: His golden-age voice and magnetic performances captivate audiences on both sides of the Atlantic," said Pentatone vice president of artists and repertoire Renaud Loranger in a statement. "It has been thrilling to watch his career blossom over the last decade."
In addition to Chicago, Fabiano will be making other important debuts this season. Fabiano is set to star as the lecherous Duke in a new production of Verdi's Rigoletto for his debut at Berlin's Staatsoper. He also will be making role debuts as Faust in Boito's Mefistofele at New York's Metropolitan Opera and Carlo VII in Verdi's Giovanna D'Arco for Madrid's Teatro Real ( another co-producer of the Lyric's new La boheme ).
And Fabiano isn't just flying high career-wise. In an interview with BBC Radio 3, Fabiano talked about his love of flying planes and the difficulty he had finding time to pass tests for his pilot's license.
In the early 2000s, American opera singers like soprano Patricia Racette and mezzo-soprano Jill Grove had to be decisive in in managing how they would publicly come out ( both did so in Opera News magazine ). But since then as LGBTQ people have fought for more rights in the U.S., that hasn't been much of a concern for Fabiano.
"To be really frank, I don't even think about it," Fabiano said. "I am out, and I am happy, and that's it."
Indeed, many opera fans first learned about Fabiano's spot on the Kinsey scale in August 2017. That's when he publicly announced his pending nuptials to Bryan L. McCalister, a young associate director on the board of the Metropolitan Opera.
"I have a very supportive fiance," said Fabiano, adding that the wedding is scheduled for the end of this month. "I couldn't be more happy."
But before then, Fabiano will be singing out Rodolfo's love for Mimi in his Lyric debut.
"The lineage and history of the Lyric is huge, with a strong community of great performers," Fabiano said. "I'm just honored that I'll be able to have a moment on the stage like so many others."
The Lyric Opera of Chicago's new co-production of La boheme plays a total of 11 performances in October and January at the Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker Drive. The opera is sung in Italian with projected English translations. Tickets are $49-$279 ( $99-$299 for the Oct. 6 opening night ). Call 312-827-5600 or visit lyricopera.org/Boheme.