This opera troupe really rocks
<b>JERSEY JOURNAL<br />This opera troupe really rocks</b><br />
<b>JERSEY JOURNAL<br />This opera troupe really rocks</b><br />
Tim McNany

If you want to embarass Alexander Kariotis, say that he's walking in the footsteps of the recently departed tenor Luciano Pavarotti. He turns beat red and vehemently urges you to cut it out.

But the number of ways that the paths of Kariotis and Pavarotti have crossed is striking - no matter how much Kariotis denies it.

First, Pavarotti was the first opera star Kariotis ever saw in concert. Then, as a student at the Mannes Conservatory in New York City, Kariotis got a chance to be in the presence of Pavarotti, when the tenor paid a visit to the U.S. to perform at Carnegie Hall.

"The first time we talked it was like we had always known each other," recalls Kariotis, who lives in Maplewood. "We weren't like buddies or anything but it was neat to be around a guy like that."

Soon after, Kariotis earned raves as a semifinalist in an opera competition in Milan, Italy, and went on to study under Arrigo Pola, Pavarotti's voice coach. And in a final twist of fate, Pavarotti passed away Sept. 6, which is Kariotis' birthday.

Unlike Pavarotti, though, Kariotis is a rocker too. Through his 11-member rock opera orchestra, he is breaking new ground with a sound that he says is more genuine than most. Kariotis and his crew practice in a Jersey City wine warehouse, where they'll put on a show Thursday.

"Doing this music gives me a chance to do what I love with both opera and rock," Kariotis says. "And not in some hokey way, like some groups that may be doing it as a gimmick. Opera and rock have been a big part of my life."

In large measure, Kariotis' brother, Tony, is responsible for shaping Kariotis' musical development. While the pair were growing up in a Chicago suburb, Kariotis would follow his older brother around as he traveled on gigs throughout the Midwest with the band Gambler.

"Wherever the band played, I played and would open up shows for them with my rock songs," Kariotis says. "My brother was one of those kind of rock and roll guys who was into the art of writing songs, not into all the sex and drugs stuff."

Tony Kariotis was the first to realize that his kid brother had something different about his voice. So, he arranged to take him to see Pavarotti that first time.

"There was just something about his voice," Kariotis says, recalling his initial Pavarotti experience. "My brother saw how excited I was about it and encouraged me to go into opera all the way."

One of Pavarotti's maxims that sticks out in Kariotis' mind is that opera singers should forever remain students of their craft.

"He'd (Pavarotti) say you're either going to find your voice or lose it trying," Kariotis says.

In the prime of his opera career, Kariotis lost his biggest advocate: elder brother, Tony, died after a battle with Lou Gehrig's disease.

"My wife and I were in Europe performing at opera houses when I found out my brother was dying," Kariotis says. "When I would visit him in Chicago, he would tell me, 'Get back out there. I'm dying.' When he died, a big chunk of me went with him."

Kariotis says his big brother would give a thumbs up to his rock opera orchestra.

"I think this is another chance for me to hang out with him again," he says.

Jeff Theodore, The Jersey Journal
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