Appearing in the same opera with Renée Fleming is both an honor and a challenge. For tenor Michael Fabiano, it’s a career milestone opportunity.
One of the world’s top divas, Fleming is the San Francisco Opera season’s main attraction, singing the title role of Donizetti’s “Lucrezia Borgia,” which opens Friday at the War Memoial Opera House.
Fabiano, 27, at the explosive beginning of what’s already a big career, is confident and secure in performing next to such a big star. The tenor, who was born in New Jersey, grew up in Minnesota, and lives in Philadelphia, is joyous about the opportunity.
He says about this part, and most every role: “I want music in my life and I want to be successful. I am driven to be a singer. I would do anything ... nearly everything that it takes to be successful. I want it really badly.”
In San Francisco’s much-delayed premiere of the 1833 opera, Fabiano plays Gennaro, the long-lost son of the infamous femme fatale of an improbably (although historically documented) disfunctional family.
Opera fans first met Fabiano not playing a role, but being himself — a brash, forceful, stubborn and charismatic 23-year-old — in the Metropolitan Opera’s 2007 National Auditions, which were captured in the memorable 2009 documentary “The Audition.”
Viewers followed Fabiano in merciless close-ups through struggle and triumph as one of 22 semifinalists selected from 1,800 contestants; he became one of six winners (along with the local Merola Opera Program’s Alek Shrader).
The young tenor’s eminently sighted ambition, dedication and iron will should help him through the trials and tribulations of a singing career as he progresses from second to top banana. Today, he orbits major houses in New York, Milan, London, Athens, Spoleto, and more.
Arriving in San Francisco for the first time (he discounts a family vacation at age 12), Fabiano finds the company here terrific. He says, “People really care... combining, not separating, work and life.”
Asked to replace the originally scheduled Francesco Meli, Fabiano came to the San Francisco Opera role at the last minute, as rehearsals were beginning.
His workload is, and has been, dizzying. He sung 17 major roles in four years at Philadelphia’s Academy of Vocal Arts, then went on to win top prizes in seven international contests.
Engagements followed at the Dresden Semperoper, English National Opera, Vancouver and Bilbao, the Paris Opera, and the Met. While offers are coming in for all kinds of leading roles, Fabiano is taking only those in the lyric-tenor range.
In his limited spare time, he still pursues his childhood hobbies, cars and baseball.
Legend has it that at age 2, he knew the make and model of all the cars in his neighborhood. As a passionate fan of the New York Yankees, at 17 he became the youngest umpire in varsity sports in Minnesota — not otherwise a Yankee domain.
IF YOU GO
Presented by San Francisco Opera
Where: War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco
When: 8 p.m. Friday, and Oct. 8 and Oct. 11; 7:30 p.m. Monday and Sept. 29 and Oct. 5; 2 p.m. Oct. 2
Tickets: $30 to $337
Contact: (415) 864-3330, www.sfopera.com