Backstage with Ron Onesti:

It’s ALL rock ‘n’ roll to me!


When I get asked, “Are you a Cubs fan or a White Sox fan,” I respond, “I’m a baseball fan!” And when I get asked, “What is your favorite style of music,” I respond, “Pretty much all of them!”

It’s not that I am noncommittal. I just appreciate the structure, passion and talent professionals in all music, as in all sports, must master.

For example, I will pause on a random Spanish station many people stumble upon as their radio knob is jockeying from one side of the dial to the other. I find it very melodic, upbeat and interesting. Of course, I love my classic rock, and that is what I principally present at my theater and at my festivals. However, after dealing with some of the most amazing musicians and vocalists in the world over the last 30-plus years, I can honestly say that I DO have a respect for all forms of music and its players.

Have you ever listened to the gospel station early on a Sunday morning? It is incredibly moving, inspirational and quite entertaining. You really get a visual over the radio waves of the singers in long flowing robes, all moving melodically to the gospel beat in unison, voices overpowering one another.

Then you have the opera. As a child, I grew up in an Italian household and, more often than not, my mom would either turn on the PBS station on television or put a 33⅓ album on the hi-fi phonograph stereo (not Wi-Fi) of Puccini’s “Turandot,” “Madama Butterfly” or “Tosca.” It was definitely “Mom’s music,” but to this day it gives me a sense of comfort to hear those familiar notes.

Last year, we hosted an international presentation of “La Boheme” at the Arcada Theatre. It was masterfully performed by the Il Teatro Lirico di Europa, a 27-piece orchestra from Milan with vocalists from Bulgaria, Poland, Russia and Korea. With ornate costumes and authentic sets, it was truly incredible. And all the performers were so humbled to be performing in this great country of ours.

“La Boheme” was Luciano Pavarotti’s favorite opera to perform. In 1965, the 30-year old tenor made his first appearance at La Scala, the famed 18th century opera house in Milan, as a star of “La Boheme.” I am a huge fan of his music and this vocal (and physical) giant had arguably the most amazing voice … ever. I was honored to be in attendance at Luciano’s 70th birthday celebration, and for his 80th we presented his favorite opera … how fitting!

He is from a small town outside of Modena, Italy (where balsamic vinegar comes from), about 90 miles from Florence, where my mom was born. So we have always been partial to him. And when he passed away from cancer, we were truly shocked! I don’t think any of us really understood just how sick he was.

I remember the day he died. I was flying to Los Angeles to do a show and I saw his picture with 1935-2007 underneath it on the television monitor. I was crushed. I had to do something.

By the time I landed on the West coast, I had written a show that paid tribute to the late tenor. I wanted to call it something respectful, something with emotion, something that reflected a tender farewell. I called it “Buona Notte, Pavarotti,” translated to mean “Good night, Luciano.” It featured a 28-piece orchestra and three amazing tenors. I felt I paid my respects.

Unfortunately, opera probably won’t ever be as big as Taylor Swift or Lady Gaga. Andrea Bocelli came very close, but regardless, my hat is off to the amazing performers in the international world of opera. And when I hear “Nessun Dorma,” “Return To Sorrento” or any other of those deep-diaphragmed classics, I still think of my beautiful mother, who at 90-years young, is actually more of a Michael Buble fan these days.

It’s not Led Zeppelin, Journey or Styx, but for more than 300 years, opera has been SOMEBODY’S “classic” rock. So by definition, opera is as cool as “Stairway To Heaven.”

Classic European opera returns to the Arcada Theatre this Sunday, Feb. 12, with one of the most popular operas in history, Bizet’s “Carmen.” Incredible costumes, amazing voices and a 40-piece orchestra will make fore a truly memorable family experience! For tickets, visit

• Ron Onesti is president and CEO of The Onesti Entertainment Corp. and The Historic Arcada Theatre in St. Charles. Celebrity questions and comments? Email