“Take a horse of fine breeding …” begins the second verse of Le manoir de Rosemonde, Robert de Bonnières’ sinister poem set to music by Henri Duparc. Michael Fabiano is certainly a finely-trained operatic racehorse, as demonstrated in the second half of his recital at The Wigmore Hall on Friday evening. His account of the Puccini-rich Italian repertoire was impeccable – full of dramatic vocal ploys, with the sob button set to maximum, his slight frame commanding the small stage. Puccini’s Inno a Diana was given the full fanfare treatment, pinging every acoustic resonance in the hall, and for E l’uccellino that followed, Fabiano adopted a warm-toned counterpoint to the pecking piano part (played masterfully, as ever, by Julius Drake, whose accompaniment throughout managed the nuances of the repertoire with élan). Three rare compositional treats by the conductor Arturo Toscanini were deftly handled, the drama of Spes, ultima dea and Donna, vorrei morir contrasting well with the busy wittiness of Il pescatore.
For the end of the half, Fabiano presented three songs by his countryman, Samuel Barber; for Sleep now, Fabiano found an edgy tone that worked well with the restless mood, and I hear an army was given the drive and energy it needs; but although there was power in the delivery of Rain has fallen, its gentle tristesse was missing.
Fabiano also demonstrated his grand-opera credentials with the first encore piece, Lensky’s aria from Onegin (his role in the part at Covent Garden in 2015 received rave reviews), and added a touch of the Heldentenor for a ringing performance of Strauss’s Zueignung.
The first half of the concert, however, worked less well. French mélodie is certainly romantic, but its poetry needs to be painted in a subtle blended gouache rather than the bright textured splash of oils of the Italian songs, and it really requires a lyric tenor to depict its nuances of light and shade. For the set of seven songs by Duparc, Fabiano’s voice seemed mismatched: although he sometimes found a subtle mezzo-forte (at the opening of Phidylé for example), and there was a delicacy in his account of Extase, the floated high notes in Chanson triste and Le manoir de Rosemonde seemed far from effortless, and had a throaty edge. However, Fabiano couldn’t rein in the thoroughbred, and every time the dynamic reached a certain level, the dramatic-tenor twang charged out of the starting gate: the fortes in Le manoir de Rosemonde were exultant rather than threatening, and “me récompensent de l’attente” at the close of Phidylé thundered past the post rather too showily. The four songs by Liszt fared slightly better (the most controlled being S’il est un charmant gazon) but there was still a tendency to overstate the louder endings.
Fabiano has a magnificent voice, for certain, and his Rodolfo in Covent Garden’s Bohème this coming September will doubtless deserve all the plaudits it will get. But it is an instrument that is much more at home on a stage than in the salon.