Friday, August 19, 2022



Photo credit: Jiyang Chen.

American tenor Michael Fabiano is the recipient of the 2014 Beverly Sills Artist Award and the 2014 Richard Tucker Award, the first singer to win both awards in the same year. This season he will perform at the Metropolitan Opera, LA Opera, Gran Teatre del Liceu Barcelona, and the Wiener Staatsoper, to name a few. Michael is a co-founder of ArtSmart, a national non-profit that provides free music lessons and mentorship by paid, professional artists to youth living in under-resourced communities. He is hosting a recital at Seattle Opera on Thursday, September 15, to benefit ArtSmart and the opera’s youth programs. In this interview, Michael shares why music education is beneficial and the inspirations behind ArtSmart. His last appearance at Seattle Opera was as Rodolfo in our 2012/13 production of La bohème.

Seattle Opera: Michael, tell us how ArtSmart started?

Michael Fabiano: I founded ArtSmart with my good friend John Viscardi seven years ago. We were thinking of how we could help young artists find dignity in their careers. For us, dignity means income. If you’re not making money pursuing your dream, then it’s hard to say that a person has dignity. The first idea we conceived of was to pair professional singers with students in under-served communities.

Just out of college, many young artists are $200,000 or more in debt. With limited opportunities to work, many upstart singers work two or three jobs unrelated to pursuing their dreams. John and I realized that we could support their career growth by offering them opportunities to teach voice to children with limited resources. Initially, our goal was to support and fund working artists. However, the mission changed after the first year. Now ArtSmart’s intention is to provide music access to at-risk youth and families with limited funds while at the same time supporting artists.

Seattle Opera: Why is it important that artists are compensated for their work?

Michael Fabiano: When I was just starting out, I used Craigslist to find last-minute jobs. In those days, if I had had the opportunity to work consistently using my voice instead of working side jobs, earning a few hundred dollars a week, it would have been beneficial to me. It would have meant that I could audition more and do those things to advance my career. That’s why we pay our artists/mentors generously. We offer a fair wage for the work they deliver.

Michael Fabiano (far left) in Seattle Opera's production of La bohème in 2013. Photo credit: Elise Bakketun.

Seattle Opera: ArtSmart is a national organization. Where is ArtSmart active?

Michael Fabiano: We are deployed in eight major cities across the nation, including Philadelphia, New York City, San Francisco, Newark, Chicago, and many others. Most students are people of color—81 percent. 43 percent identify as LGBTQIA+. In addition to music instruction and mentoring we focus on mental health awareness and guidance. We offer experiences that help students pursue their goals in life through music. We’re a support system that places students on a runway to success.

Seattle Opera: Have you always wanted to be a professional singer?

Michael Fabiano: I grew up surrounded by music, from musical theater to opera. But I went to college to study business with the goal of earning an MBA. I started at the University of Michigan and ended up at the Academy of Vocal Arts in Philadelphia. As I’ve grown my career, I would say that what drives my passion as a singer are all my other endeavors. So ArtSmart really drives my singing.

The first music lesson I ever had was with George Shirley, the great African American singer. He was the first African American tenor and the second African American male to sing leading roles at the Metropolitan Opera. Incredible. Professor Shirley said to me: ‘Michael, do you realize the talent you have?’ I said, ‘No, professor. I have no idea what you are talking about.’ He went on to say, ‘When someone has a talent of your scope and size, they have a social and moral responsibility to society.’ That statement was so impactful to me. If it weren’t for George Shirley—as someone that I looked up to as an 18-year-old—there would be no Michael Fabiano today. It is in that spirit that ArtSmart exists. I’m humbled that George Shirley is the on the board of ArtSmart, currently serving as our board chair.

Michael Fabiano and George Shirley in 2019. Photo credit: WDET in Detroit.

Seattle Opera: How many students are active in ArtSmart?

Michael Fabiano: This year, we’re aiming for around 700 students each receiving 40 lessons. Our goal is to provide 25,000 lessons, more or less. ArtSmart is in more than 30 school districts. We are also piloting piano instruction in some cities this year.

More important than the numbers is the fact that ArtSmart students follow a specific curriculum and a dedicated voice teacher and mentor that they can look up to on a consistent basis. Our surveys report that after one year in the program, 92 percent of our students say they want to go to college. And they’re not talking about going to music school. They’re talking about college to pursue all kinds of careers.

Seattle Opera: So, the goal of ArtSmart is not that every student become a great singer?

Michael Fabiano: I would say our vision is to lift students out of poverty and to end the mental health crisis using comprehensive one-on-one music lessons and mentorship. We know that very few students will have serious careers in music, the numbers are low. However, it is a fact that teaching kids a core curriculum that is based on goals, strategic planning, and aspiring to do your best can be applied to studying all subjects, such as social studies, math, and English. Math teachers, science teachers, and others appreciate what we’re doing. They often share stories of how their students have improved academically after being in ArtSmart.

Seattle Opera: What will audience members experience at your upcoming Seattle Opera recital in Tagney Jones Hall?

Michael Fabiano:
We will present a casual program. Students from Seattle Opera’s Teen Vocal Studio and I will perform. We’re planning on doing several pieces together. Proceeds from the evening will benefit ArtSmart and the opera’s youth programs.

Join Michael Fabiano and members of our very own Teen Vocal Studio with pianist Jay Rozendaal for a one-night-only fundraiser recital on Thursday, September 15, at 7:30 PM in Tagney Jones Hall. Proceeds will benefit ArtSmart and Seattle Opera youth programs. Tickets and info at

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