Tenor Michael Fabiano & Nadine Sierra Spotlight ArtSmart, Mentors, & Students in ‘A Passion For Song’

By David Salazar
(Credit: Elena Cherkashyna)

Michael Fabiano is undeniably one of the great tenors of our time, recognized worldwide for his immense talent and the intensity that he devotes to his every moment on stage.

That dedication was evident on Wednesday night, Dec. 4, 2019, at the Merkin Hall at the Kaufmann Center when the tenor explored his artistry in order to support his other passion, ArtSmart. The tenor joined forces with Classical Vocal Arts International as well as famed soprano Nadine Sierra to raise awareness and money for Fabiano’s organization, which he founded with John Viscardi.

As Fabiano noted throughout the evening, ArtSmart offers underserved students around the U.S. with opportunities for weekly one on one voice lessons aimed at not only developing their vocal skills, but also helping them in their academic studies.

He noted that students that are a part of the program have experienced a 1.1 grade point average increase.

“Our students don’t go to detention or get expelled,” stated Fabiano. “English teachers, science teachers, social studies teachers that come to us and tells us that our students that are in your program are doing so much better.”

He noted that the program is growing and that by the end of the school year, ArtSmart will have given 20,000 free voice lessons in the year.

“By the end of the year, ArtSmart will be the largest mentoring organization in direct one-on-one musical instruction in the United States,” he noted.

Mentorship was at the core of the theme with both Fabiano and Sierra making comments about the importance of mentors in the development of youth.

Sierra, turning her attention to pianist Kamal Khan, the other major musical figure of the night, noted that he had been the first one to guide her into the world of opera as a teenager.

“He introduced me to basically what this career was all about and opened the door for me to even start to dream about this kind of career,” she stated before adding that he got her a job at 14 at the Palm Beach Opera as a chorus member. “If I hadn’t had Kamal, I really don’t think I would be here. I know that for a fact.”

“When young kids and young adults have that one one one relationship with someone and they have that imperative from someone else that has experience, their chance at life grows immensely,” Fabiano added regarding the importance of mentorship. He later invoked an important lesson that tenor George Shirley gave to him. “When an individual is imbued with an incredible talent, they have a moral responsibility to share that talent with the rest of society.”

And as part of celebrating this essential bond, the tenor brought on two special guests to perform throughout the evening.

The first of these was Claire Kuttler, a soprano from Iowa, who is one of the 50 mentors working nationwide for ArtSmart.

Kuttler was born into a family of public educations and thus grew up with a solid music education in her youth. But when she moved to New York to pursue her career as a singer, she was stunned to find little to no musical education in one of the cultural centers of the world.

“Our mentors teach our students how to be better citizens, better artists, and better people and we have 50 of them right that work around the country,” Fabiano stated while introducing Kuttler for her performance of “Chanson Triste.”

Later on in the program, Fabiano brought on Matthew Jimenez, a student from the Harlem Vocal Academy that is currently part of the program.

“Matthew credits ArtSmart with helping him build his confidence,” Fabiano noted. “His mentor has helped him in his ability to get in front of people and be himself.

Jimenez, who Fabiano noted wants degree in criminal justice, then came onstage and performed on his own.  At the close of his performance, he earned himself a rousing standing ovation from around the auditorium.

Despite a concert full of incredible performances by Fabiano and Sierra of music by Puccini, Duparc, Gounod, Massenet, and others, this was arguably the greatest success of the night. And Fabiano wouldn’t have it any other way.

“Remember, this is an ArtSmart Event,” he told the audience.