Fort Worth has been using the “Cowboys and Culture” slogan for a long time, but how far back does it go? Though the phrase is more recent, it could trace back to 1920 when famed tenor Enrico Caruso came to Fort Worth and sang at the Cowtown Coliseum.
That’s right, Caruso (1873-1921), an Italian operatic tenor who gained fame by singing at many of the major opera houses of his day and became famous just as recording devices where in their infancy, came to Fort Worth in 1920.
Now, the Fort Worth Opera and Friends of the Cowtown Coliseum will present “Caruso in Cowtown” as the ultimate evening of “Cowboys and Culture” Thursday, April 7, 2016, at Cowtown Coliseum. This special one-night-only, black-tie gala will recreate Caruso’s historic 1920 Fort Worth concert.
Guests will enjoy a Fort Worth-inspired menu, while stars of the 2016 FWOpera Festival productions take the stage with special preview performances. World-renowned tenor and Metropolitan Opera favorite Stephen Costello will headline the evening with a recreation of Caruso’s repertoire
While, the Stockyards is seen as place to see boot-scootin’ acts such as Willie Nelson and any variety of country or Western Swing musicians, more cultured fare is not unknown there. While the Cowtown Coliseum has its historical roots as both a home for livestock exhibitions and the World’s first indoor rodeo. Iconic artists such as Bob Hope, Doris Day, Willie Nelson and Elvis Presley have all graced the coliseum’s stage. Along with those artists, international ballet companies danced under its roof, and full operas were once performed within the walls of this auditorium. From Tamaki Miura’s Madama Butterfly, Diaghileff’s Ballet Russe and the Chicago Opera Company’s Lucia di Lammermoor and Faust, the coliseum has a diverse background as legendary as Caruso’s, sold-out performance that night in 1920, to a standing-room-only crowd.
“It’s an honor to partner with Cowtown Coliseum to bring such an amazing night of entertainment to the people of Fort Worth and North Texas. I have always been captivated by the story of Caruso’s visit to Fort Worth as it emphasizes the city’s long tradition of recognizing and celebrating its distinct blend of Western culture and world class art,” said FWOpera General Director Darren K. Woods.
For the Cowtown Coliseum, the event gives the historic building a chance to show off a bit.
“What we are doing here is truly great,” said Hub Baker, the coliseum’s general manager. “We are always striving to let the world know how important this building was to this nation in western and cultural heritage, and it’s a real step forward bringing back the past. Fort Worth Opera is a great partner and we are proud to be home, once again, to honoring Caruso’s great history. The meaning of this event is greater than one night.”
Attendees should not keep their boots at home. Following Costello’s performance, guests are invited to partake in a honky-tonk inspired After Party. Guests will two-step on the Coliseum’s dirt floor while guests bid on silent auction items. All proceeds from the evening will benefit FWOpera and the Friends of the Cowtown Coliseum.
While the event celebrates Fort Worth’s historic melding of cowboys and culture, the blend of those two ways of life has not always been a smooth one.
According to the book A Hundred Years of Heroes: A History of the Southwestern Exposition and Livestock Show, by Clay Reynolds, when Caruso heard he was singing at the coliseum in Fort Worth, he was “too upset to eat,” and vowed not to sing all the way to the venue. However, when he stepped out into the coliseum and tested its acoustics, he reportedly said, “I will sing!” And he did, before a capacity crowd of hooting, boot-wearing audience members.
Thursday, April 7, 2016
6 :30 p.m. — Cocktail réception
7:30 p.m. — Dinner with performances from the stars of the 2016 FWOpera Festival
8:15 p.m. — Stephen Costello recreates Enrico Caruso’s 1920 Cowtown Coliseum performance
9:00 p.m. – After Party