Updated: Apr 24, 2018
Classical singer Aaron Caruso was a teenager when he received a sign that he would one day become a talented operatic singer and entertainer.
Caruso was still focusing on playing the trombone and piano in band class at Fraser High School when he was confronted by a teacher after missing rehearsals.
"He basically said to me if you don't show up for class, you can walk right next door and go sing for the choir," recalled Caruso, who had been secretly practicing opera singing at home with his mother's encouragement.
"I took that as my moment and I went to the choir to audition. Mr. (Pat) Pascaretti auditioned me and I hit a big note and he sat back with his eyes wide and said: 'Where the heck have you been all this time? You're in the top choir.' "
Now 42, Caruso has moved beyond the top choir. He accomplished a musical education both in and out of the classroom, studying with classical music teachers and learning how to work a nightclub or ethnic festival stage.
He specializes in classical Neapolitan music, but his stage shows include romantic old-school Italian songs, Broadway hits including selections from "Phantom of the Opera," a few pop tunes by the likes of Tom Jones and others, and often closes with a salute to veterans.
Caruso's publicity materials describe his show as "Pavarotti meets the Rat Pack" after he picked up tips on making his music more accessible through storytelling and jokes he learned while working with Danny Marona, a 10-time Entertainer of the Year in Reno, Nev.
Caruso also studied opera with Maestro Veccia in Italy and New York. He graduated from Interlochen Arts Academy in northern Michigan, and went on to earn a bachelor's degree in musical arts at University of Michigan.
He's often compared to actor-singer Mario Lanza and has selected to portray Lanza in a tribute to the late star.
"I've studied the technicality of the voice, but I also like to think I've mastered the stage," he said. "One key element of a great show is the energy you bring to it. I was taught to never lift a finger unless you have a dramatic reason to do so, so I'm disciplined in that regard."
The son of a truck driver and health care worker, Caruso grew up seeking attention as the middle of three children, and to this day still refers to himself as the family "ham."
But he's also intensely proud of his Italian heritage, which is why he took intense lessons to learn Italian; he can also speak fluent French and other languages.
Caruso has performed at some spectacular venues, such as Carnegie Hall, and recently was knighted by the Equestrian Knight of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, a Roman Catholic order of knighthood under the protection of the Pope.
Like Michael Buble and Harry Connick Jr., Caruso is one of those rare performers who appreciates the nuances and class of music from the past, whether it's a Dean Martin saloon song or a version of "O Sole Mio."
"I'm not into half-naked people running around or the Cirque du Soleil thing," he said. "I present the classic style of entertainment. I can do opera, operettas, the big anthems, or I can do popular stuff and be a crooner.
"I believe the audience and all human beings for that matter, crave melody, beautiful melodies. That's why Michael Buble is so wonderful. He's introducing younger audiences to the great songs. There's a truth to this music. These songs obviously stand the test of time."
By Mitch Hotts Daily Tribune Staff Writer