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Michael Fabiano H

A Traditional Tenor for the Modern Age

e’s been called ‘the hardest- working opera singer in show

business.’ Opera’s answer to James Brown spoke to The American’s Michael Burland as he prepared for his Royal Opera House début.

First things first, Michael, our expat readers would love to know, where do you hail from originally? We lived all over the north part

of North Jersey until I was 11, then my father was transferred to Minne- sota – he was a turnaround specialist, bringing companies back from the brink of going out of business. We lived in Minneapolis from when I was 11 to 18. It was a real culture shock, diametrically different to the New York/New Jersey/Pennsylvania area. I had some wonderful times growing up there, but the kids would always make horrific fun of my accent – they talked ‘like this, you bet, goshdarn it’ and I never assimilated the accent. Then I went to the University of Mich- igan which was square between the two. Unlike Minnesota, in Michigan there was an immigration of Italians, so we could always find really good pizza – New Jersey people always look out for real New York style goombah pizza, you gotta have it! We have strong ties to the south of Italy, still. My aunt, Laurie Fabiano, wrote a book called Elizabeth Street, about the migration of my family to the States in the early part of last century. It’s fictional but it tracks every person in my family through the ‘60s. My father is from the south of Italy, my

52 The American

mother is from different countries all over Europe – Irish, German, English, Dutch… I’m a real mutt – that’s the American way! Most people I know are from multiple places. I have lots of Irish-Italian mixed friends – can you imagine? – but they’re both Catholic, so perhaps not very different. And both highly strung? Just like my father and mother! Both very musical peoples too.

It stretches right back. My grand- mother on my father’s side was a concert pianist and my father sang. My mother’s parents were singers. No-one pursued it professionally until my aunt, but a very strong crea- tive vein has always been there. One of my aunts is a wonderful sculptor and became the creative director of multiple foundations. That explains your attraction to

music, but why opera? I’ve always loved classical music.

I can’t explain it. It was just one of those ‘a-ha’ moments when I realized I could make a career in music rather than being a businessman, although I would have been happy to do that. We may be the only magazine in

the UK where this is an important question – you’re also passionate about baseball, a certified baseball umpire. Why umpire, not player? When I was young I was a very

heavy kid. I loved playing baseball but I was never that good. Other kids used to massacre me when I would strike out, or not be able to run around the bases, and I hated that. When I was around 14 I figured

that I could be a part of the game by umpiring it – and by the way, those kids who treated me like dirt, they better watch out! Payback time?! Yeah – in a light way! [laughs] It’s

more that I didn’t want to lose the game from my life, I loved it so much. I’m also a rules kinda guy. Statistics, data… I love it about music, politics, history, anything where there’s infor- mation, rules that must be followed, rules that can be broken, how, when and why. I learned the rulebook extremely quickly and progressed as a very young umpire – I made some errors early on – who doesn’t? – but I ended up umpiring kids older than me. Because I was heavy and had a strong voice at a young age no-one ever flinched. I looked imposing, and knew the rules cold. I did it well into when I began my career as an opera singer. I’d love to do it again, but I’m rusty, I’d have to sit with the book again, take a refresh course with one of the leagues… You don’t look like that ‘heavy

kid’ now – you look pretty fit. [See photos for proof, readers! – ed] My second a-ha moment came

when I was going into my third year in university. I was walking up the stairs in my parents’ house and when I got to the top I was out of breath. I walked into the bathroom and stepped on the scale and I was 275 pounds. I thought I was 220, 230, but I was really large, I’d gained weight at college. I took the decision to lose weight, not just for my health but to

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