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🗣️ Meet the local singing everywhere from PNC Park to Western Psych

Marianne Cornetti headshot

Today’s Local to Know interview was sponsored by Pittsburgh Opera. Catch Marianne in “Il Trovatore” March 28, 31 and April 2 at the Benedum Center.

Today’s Local to Know has sung the national anthem at Pittsburgh sports games and graces the stage as Azucena in Pittsburgh Opera’s production of “Il Trovatore.” Meet Marianne Cornetti, opera singer, volunteer and Pittsburgh sports superfan. Take it away, Marianne!

Tell us how you got started in opera.

I have a very long lineage on my mom’s side of singers and musicians. My great-great-grandmother and great-grandmothers sang, my grandmother could “rock” a piano and played in her church for 60 years, and my mom sang and played the piano and organ in church for years.

My mom always had us singing at home. And thus I started singing in the church choir at age 12. My two brothers and I all sing and play instruments, but I was the very first one in my family educated in music.  My sixth-grade teacher asked me to sing a solo in the spring concert, “I’d like to teach the world to sing.” That teacher then called the high school chorus teacher and said, “you must keep an eye out for this young singer.” That teacher did and gave me a solo in the seventh grade and then highly recommended I start voice lessons. My voice was trained classically, and it came so naturally. I credit my teachers for this early very important training!

I then went from high school to Manhattan School of Music, Cincinnati Conservatory of Music and finally graduated from Duquesne University. I went from Duquesne to Pittsburgh Opera’s young artist program, and that is where I made my professional debut in 1989. It has been 34 years of singing all over the world! I couldn’t imagine doing anything else! And I am still going.

What can the audience expect from “Il Trovatore”? How many times have you done this show before?

“Il Trovatore” is one if Giuseppe Verdi’s greatest operas! It truly is a grand opera! It takes four of the greatest singers to really understand what Verdi demanded of each role. Verdi stretches each of these singers both vocally and dramatically! I have been singing the role of Azucena since 1995. It was my first major role! The opening night here with Pittsburgh Opera Marks my 173rd performance.

What are some of your other favorite roles you’ve had throughout your career?

I am asked this question a lot! My answer is always the role that I am doing at that time! I have been very lucky to be able to sing the roles of the dramatic mezzo soprano repertoire — my roles are all very interesting because they drive the drama. I refer them as the “queens, witches and bitches”: Azucena from “Il Trovatore,” Eboli from “Don Carlo,” Amneris from “Aida,” Abigaille from “Nabucco,” Lady Macbeth from “Macbeth,” Ulrica from “Ballo in Maschera,” the witch from “Hansel and Gretel” and Jezibaba from “Rusalka” just to name a few.

It sounds like you’ve done charity performances at places like the county jail. Talk to our readers about how you’ve used your talents to give back!

This is something that I truly believe you must do when you have been given a gift from God. It’s not mine, but instead, it’s mine to share. I think that it’s very important to share your gift with others. I remember singing in the Allegheny County jail on several occasions to the inmates, around Christmas. Their genuine reaction simply brought me to tears. I was thanked profusely for taking the time to come in to sing to the inmates. I was touched.

I am very active with Western Psychiatric Hospital raising funds now every year for Making Minds Matter and Holidays from the Hearts. I started this three years ago. In 2020, I couldn’t do the concert at Carnegie Music Hall, but last year I finally did, and this year in June I will have the second annual Marianne Cornetti and Friends concert with local singers and a Broadway star from NY and peers who have gone through Western Psychiatric Hospital prior. I work with these peers so that they can be on stage and perform. It’s all to break the stigma of mental illness. It’s growing by leaps and bounds each year.

Opera singers flank a dim stage built to look like a stone chapel.
The high drama of “Il Trovatore” (photo courtesy of Pittsburgh Opera)

We have to imagine you don’t listen to opera all the time. What other forms of music do you enjoy? Do you have any favorite non-opera concert venues in Pittsburgh?

You are correct! I love opera and it’s my life, but I LOVE Broadway, also; that’s what I learned first before opera. I also LOVE Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, and that whole generation of singers. We have lost so many of this type of singer! 

I really love many genres of music. I also love very good Christian music! I was raised in the church and so I need that to keep me balanced. The Collingsworth Family in particular I love!

What are some of your other favorite ways to spend your free time here in the ’Burgh? Any favorite food and drink spots?

Believe it or not, I am a huge huge sports fan! I especially love the Steelers, Penguins and Pirates. I grew up with two brothers and not many girls in our neighborhood, so I had to learn how to play or be all alone! I grew to be a really good second baseman and quarterback! I love all sports. It’s actually very close to being a singer; we train and train and then we entertain our public. When I sing out of town, the first thing I look at are the scores. I remember when the Steelers were in the AFC championship game against the Chargers… I was singing in Genoa, Italy… I looked everywhere for a sports bar, I couldn’t find anything and was desperate to watch the game. So I called a very dear friend of mine, and asked if she was going to be home watching the game… she said yes. I said, “I have enough phone calling cards to last over three hours. If I called you and you just set the phone in front of the television, could I listen to the game that way?” She was so happy to let me do that!!

I have also sung the National Anthem at the Steelers, Pirates and Pens games many many times!

Learn more about Marianne’s storied career at MarianneCornetti.com.

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