Part of an opera singer’s job description is to take on challenging, sometimes iconic, roles.
Caruso, arguably best known for his Rodolfo in Puccini’s La bohème, was such an important figure that his obituary in The New York Times, after his death on Aug. 2, 1921, at age 48 in his native Naples, reported a national day of mourning in Italy.
Costello is the featured performer in the Fort Worth Opera’s “Caruso in Cowtown,” which will relive Caruso’s performance at Cowtown Coliseum on Oct. 20, 1920. It’s an event that the opera is billing as “the ultimate evening of cowboys and culture.”
Like Caruso on that day, Costello will perform in cowboy boots and hat, and he will perform much of the 40-minute program that Caruso sang, filled with arias in the Italian repertory, including O Sole Mio, from La bohème.
To recreate the sound of Caruso is impossible, because his voice was so special.
“To re-create the sound of Caruso is impossible, because his voice was so special,” Costello says. “And we only know it from recordings.”
The event is a black-tie affair that includes a cocktail reception, a dinner of “Fort Worth-inspired” cuisine, Costello’s performance and an after-party at which Hank Hankshaw and his Band will play.
It also features performances from the stars of the upcoming Fort Worth Opera Festival. The stage and tables will be on the dirt floor of the coliseum, but the seats in the stands will be open for general admission (black tie not required).
Historic entertainment venue
Cowtown Coliseum, which holds more than 3,400 patrons, is the home of weekly rodeos in the Stockyards. Built in 1908, the venue was the home for touring musicians before there were other large concert spaces in Fort Worth.
Performers ranging from Doris Day to Elvis Presley played there. It was refurbished in 1986.
“It’s literally in a barn,” Costello says. “The acoustics aren’t bad, actually. It’s not like a stadium that’s so open.
“The sound seems to really carry in that coliseum … but I’m not sure how it will work with tables where people are eating and talking.”
Costello booked the gig at the end of the summer of 2015, when Fort Worth Opera General Director Darren K. Woods first mentioned the idea of re-creating the great Italian tenor’s performance in Cowtown.
Costello has been on the national scene for about 10 years, and the Fort Worth and Dallas operas were among the first American companies to book him. He recently ended a run of Massenet’s Manon for Dallas Opera, playing opposite his ex-wife, Ailyn Perez, in the title role.
If the coliseum seems like an unusual venue for an opera performance, Caruso sure thought so. As the legend goes, when Caruso found out he was to sing in a “cattle barn,” he was too upset to eat.
He protested all the way to the venue, and when he was escorted inside, he shouted, “I will not sing!” Then he paused and became smitten with the acoustics.
He sang to a standing-room-only crowd.
Born in 1873, Enrico Caruso grew up in a large family in Naples. He began proper singing lessons at age 16, and in 1895, at age 22, made his professional opera debut at Teatro Nuovo in Naples.
La Scala and other opera houses followed, and in 1903 he signed a contract with the Metropolitan Opera. He was so popular that he became globally known through newspaper reports and in recordings.
““We listened to recordings [of Caruso] when studying opera,” Costello says. “What’s inspiring to me about Caruso is that he had this great love of singing that kept him at the top of his game.
“At least this is not like a movie, where you re-create him with makeup and sound,” he adds, “so I will just go out there and try to honor his legend.”
Caruso in Cowtown
- 6:30 p.m. Thursday (Performance begins at 8:15 p.m.)
- Cowtown Coliseum, 121 E. Exchange Ave., in the Fort Worth Stockyards
- $200 for gala dinner seating; $25 for general concert admission
- 817-731-0726; www.fwopera.org