Two Traviatas–2.

At the end of our last episode, we left Michael Fabiano on the brink of attempted Reconstruction, his singing of Alfredo’s aria having whizzed by in a blur of theatre-games foreplay. How had he actually sung the piece? We can jigsaw together audiovideo renditions, but these fall well short of giving us the voice’s presence and quality, and the performer’s three-dimensional in-person self, in opera-house space. That’s why we must seek out the live experience whenever possible. (And a quick alert: here comes the first of these posts to get into some musical and vocal thickets in search of crucial but often subliminal performance micro-events. If you’re not used to that, please consult the Preamble of Aug. 4, and try to hang in.)

By the beginning of Act II, I’d had time to form a general impression, and that was certainly positive: a strong, well-balanced lyric tenor of pleasing timbre that carried into a clear ring at the top; well-centered intonation; decent legato and sense of phrase; some control of dynamics–in sum, one of the best of his type now active. He’d sung the little turns of the Brindisi with fair elegance, and given “Un dì, felice” a well-drawn arc. The structure of the instrument is of a sort that has become the norm for such voices post-WWII. It always makes me slightly nervous. It’s generally darker than would once have been considered desirable, and this is most evident in the lower range and in the way the singer approaches the mezza voce (see below). Technically, this is a result of greater pharyngeal dominance in vowel formation, and in at least some cases from an emphasis on very low laryngeal position, creating a longer tubular space between the tone’s vibrational source and its point of emission. Recent examples of this structure, with many individual balances of strengths and weaknesses, would be Neil Shicoff, Marcello Giordani, and Jonas Kaufmann. The worrisome aspect is that in the lower range and /or at lower dynamics, the clearer, more tensile center of the tone may drop aside, leaving insufficient underpinning for greater stresses or a clear, refined half-voice. But Fabiano’s voice is at this point a well-modulated specimen of this set-up, and young.

In my Reconstructive noodlings, I’ve found two audiovideo versions of the Fabiano “De’ miei bollenti spiriti,” complete with Annina and cabaletta. There was, briefly, a third, sneaked out from this 2017 Met run (O, these traitorous leaks!). I watched it once, intending to return, since to grasp the sung interpretation on a video it is necessary to listen at least twice with eyes averted, then look again to see where vocal moments do or don’t seem to coincide with the staging. But it vanished before I could get back to it. So I’ll proceed with the other two, with the caveat that neither represents exactly what I heard on March1, 2017, to the extent that I heard it. Then I’ll offer some comparisons, by way of clarifying points I’m trying to make about interpretation for the eye vs. that for the ear.