One of the pleasures of hearing opera in concert form is the chance to encounter lesser-known works performed by young singers still on their way to becoming stars.
Monday night's presentation by the Opera Orchestra of New York offered just such an opportunity, as tenor Michael Fabiano thrilled the crowd at Avery Fisher Hall with a breakout performance in the role of Oronte in Verdi's "I Lombardi."
Fabiano, 28, has developed a successful career in lyric roles since winning the Metropolitan Opera auditions six years ago (a competition depicted in the documentary "The Audition"). But his New York appearances had been limited until now to one minor and one supporting role at the Met.
That's likely to change, and soon. From his first number, the aria "La mia letizia infondere," Fabiano filled the house with vibrant, exciting sound, showing deep feeling for Italianate style and paying scrupulous attention to dynamic nuances. His upper register, though still not his strongest suit, sounded far more secure than a few years ago. For his final appearance, Fabiano sang a solo standing in a second-tier box next to the stage as an angel looking down on Earth, and the effect was, well, heavenly.
Most of all, he communicated a joy and an urgency in his singing that brought his character to life, even out of costume in front of an open score.
Those qualities were in shorter supply in the performance of his co-star, soprano Angela Meade as the heroine Giselda. As usual, this prodigiously talented singer showed off a voice of rare fullness and ease, along with awesome technical mastery. Yet too often there was something missing — a certain blandness or lack of involvement. On a couple of occasions when she caught fire and let loose, the results were thrilling and suggested her full potential.
"I Lombardi," Verdi's fourth opera, is full of wonderful music, much of it pointing ahead to his later masterworks, but it's hobbled by a ridiculous plot involving revenge, patricide and the First Crusade. The role of Oronte, however — relatively brief but packed with gorgeous melodies — has long attracted great tenors. Previous OONY performances featured Jose Carreras and Carlo Bergonzi, and it was one of the last new roles Luciano Pavarotti took on during his Met career.
There's a second important role for a tenor in the opera, and Noah Baetge sang it with rich sound and clarion high notes. As the villain who repents, Kevin Short displayed an imposing bass voice. Members of the New York Choral Society performed the many choruses with fervor.
Erica Kiesewetter, the orchestra's concertmaster, drew warm applause for the extended violin solo that introduces Oronte's death scene. Eve Queler, founder of the OONY, conducted with deep affection for and understanding of this youthful score by a budding genius.