By MIKE CHAIKEN
As singer Aaron Caruso views it, Mario Lanza was one of the best tenors of all time.
Audiences will get a chance to judge for themselves as Caruso and two other performers take to the Shubert Theater stage in New Haven this weekend to perform, “Lanza! A Musical Tribute.”
Caruso, who is a familiar face in central Connecticut having performed at the Southington Italian American Festival every year but one in its eight year existence, is no newcomer to the music of Mario Lanza.
“I got involved with Mario Lanza as a young man of about 13-years-old,” said Caruso, 35. “That’s when I first heard his voice and was really blown away by the beauty of an operatic voice singing Italian songs and arias that my family loved.”
Caruso explained, “Mario (Lanza) was a very passionate person and it came through in his music. When he came out he was kind of like the Elvis Presley of opera. When he made the movie ‘The Great Caruso’ in the early 50’s, MGM didn’t want to do a movie based on opera- they thought it would fall flat. It was only through the sheer charisma and excellent singing of Mario Lanza that it became their biggest selling movie at that time.”
Caruso continued, “Take away the Hollywood and the glitz and you have a world class voice that was dubbed by Toscanini as the ‘greatest voice of the 20th Century.’ The great conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and teacher of Leonard Bernstein (among others), Serge Koussevitzky gave Lanza a total scholarship to come and study at Tanglewood when he first started out. Upon hearing Mario’s singing in ‘La Boheme,’ he stood up, with tears in his eyes and screamed ‘Caruso revivus’ or Caruso reborn.”
Caruso said, “Musically, (Lanza) was able to bridge the world of popular music, which of course at that time spoke a much similar language to classical, with opera. He could croon with the best of them as well as belt out arias better than the best of them. That, in and of itself, is a blessing and curse because the purists think you only sing popular music because you can’t sustain an opera.”
As for Lanza’s appeal to Caruso, he explained, “I’m drawn to Mario as a singer also because we have similar backgrounds. I am also Italian-American and was a rough kid- to some degree- growing up, but loved to have fun and make people happy with singing. We have a lot of similarities,” said Caruso, who grew up in Fraser, Michigan, outside of Detroit.
Growing up, Caruso went to an exclusive private school, Interlochen Arts Academy where such talents as Van Cliburn, Josh Groban, Jewel and Merideth Baxter went, among others. He later went on to study voice at the University of Michigan and then studied and lived in Italy and ultimately New York.
Caruso has long tapped his Italian American heritage as a performer. “I’m very happy my grandparents came from Sicily to the great United States of America. I was born here so I am American first, but I am also proud of my heritage. We all came from somewhere. I believe the Italian musical tradition has long been celebrated all over the world because of its relevance. ‘O Sole Mio,’ a Neapolitan song, written by Eduardo Di Capua is arguably the most famous song in the world.”
As for how he became involved in the show in New Haven, Caruso explained, “I was picked by movie producer, Sonny Grosso and 15-time Grammy winner, Phil Ramone, to portray Mario on Broadway. This is still a work in progress.”
The stop in New Haven is happening, explained Caruso, because “With October being National Italian Heritage Month, I thought it would be a great time to do an Italian-themed concert in Connecticut- which happens to have the highest percentage of Italians in the entire United States.”
And to perform on the storied Shubert stage, which has launched numerous Broadway hits in hits history, said Caruso, “(is) really kind of surreal. I have such respect for that stage…They also have a great staff of people who work very hard to help out.”
As for what audiences can expect on Saturday, Caruso said they will “see myself and two other wonderful performers from New York paying tribute to one of our great Italian American tenors. From the songs, Lanza made famous, like ‘Be My Love’ and ‘Because You’re Mine,’ to great operatic arias and fun Italian songs, this concert will have something for everyone.”
What’s next in the world of Aaron Caruso?
“I’m doing work now in Las Vegas and I’ll be back again in Branson, Mo. for another three-week stint,” he said. “I am also starting to do some work at the Mohegan Sun casino, which is always a great time, travel extensively for singing, and will be headed to Sorrento, Italy next summer for a series of concerts as well as Canada and an upcoming concert with the Jersey Pops orchestra.”
“Lanza! A Musical Tribute,” starring Aaron Caruso” will be performed Saturday, Oct. 20 at 7 p.m. at the Shubert Theater, 247 College St., New Haven. Tickets are $25 to $40. For tickets, call (203) 624-1825.
For more information about Aaron Caruso, go to AaronCaruso.com
By MIKE CHAIKEN