Cornetti justifies warm welcome on return

| Friday, July 11, 2014, 8:57 p.m.

There may have been a few people at the packed opening concert of Summerfest on July 10 who wondered why the singer was greeted as a returning hero even before she reached the stage. The extended cheering and applause was the warmest possible welcome for a performer.

Mezzo-soprano Marianne Cornetti is from Western Pennsylvania, and the audience did include a contingent of family and friends. Older opera lovers remember her from her days as a member of Pittsburgh Opera Center, now called the resident artists program. Still more remember her Amneris in Pittsburgh Opera's “Aida” six years ago, when she flew in from Europe on less than 24 hours' notice to save the show by stepping in for an indisposed singer.

But when Cornetti began to sing, personal bonds, memories and reputation all assumed their proper perspective. Here was a great artist, in great voice, giving her all.

The first half of the concert was devoted to mainly Italian operatic repertoire, the second half to songs and operetta.

“O mio Fernando” from “La Favorita” by Gaetano Donizetti opened the program. Cornetti became Leonor, fully projecting the complex emotions the mistress of the King of Spain feels on learning she will marry the man she truly loves.

It was a special treat to hear Cornetti's voice, which fills big opera houses in Europe and America, in the much smaller space of the Art Deco Theater at the Twentieth Century Club in Oakland. Sitting only 20 feet from her, the range of colors and accents within a given range, including her magnificent chest tones, was marvelous to experience. So, too, her legato had a physical presence that was remarkable.

Cornetti also sang two arias from Giuseppe Verdi's “Il Trovatore” — “Stride la vampa” and “Condotta ell'era in ceppi” — with a degree of intensity and panache that showed why Azucena is one of her signature roles.

The singer's ability to refocus from aria to aria, each in succession from a different opera, was a tour de force. “Suicido” from Amilcare Ponchielli's “La Gioconda” was a harrowing experience.

The first half ended with a complete contrast, and not only because it was sung in French. “Mon Coeur s'ouvre a ta voix” (My heart opens to your voice) from Camille Saint-Saens' “Samson and Delilah” was filled with warmth and joy.

Cornetti returned happy and refreshed for the second half, saying “If all audiences were like this one.” She began with five well-contrasted Italian songs, including “L'ultima Canzone” by Paolo Tosti and “Non ti scordar do me” by Ernesto De Curtis. The inevitable show-stopper in this set was Luigi Denza's “Funiculi Funicula” in which Cornetti's spirited singing was unexpectedly reinforced by a chorus of Summerfest singers. “The Italian Street Song” from Victor Herbert's “Naughty Marietta” was similarly irresistible.

When Cornetti sang “Vilya” from Franz Lehar's “The Merry Widow,” she was joined not only by Summerfest singers but also by many audience members.

Her encore, “Climb Every Mountain,” is music Cornetti's mother gave her long ago and has become her mantra, she said. She sang it with inspirational fervor.

Brent McMunn was the superb accompanist. He played on an excellent 5-foot Steinway, which was a little too small, given the big size of Cornetti's voice.

Mark Kanny is classical music critic for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7877 or

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