Opera singer has her sights set on the top


An opera singer from Seymour has her sights set on one simple goal.

“I’m just trying to be the second most famous singer from Seymour, Indiana,” soprano Donata Cucinotta said.

“You know who No. 1 is,” she said, referring to Rock and Roll Hall of Famer John Mellencamp. “I like playing second fiddle.”

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Cucinotta, who grew up in Wynnewood, Pennsylvania, might not have to go far to meet that goal since she already has performed with opera companies and professional orchestras across the nation.

Her latest gig will see her sing the role of Musetta in the Indianapolis Opera Co. performance of La bohème. Performances are set for Sept. 14 through 16 at The Tarkington at The Center for the Performing Arts in Carmel.

The Italian opera was written by Giacomo Puccini in 1895 and is a series of four vignettes about a group of Bohemians living in Paris.

Cucinotta said there are a lot of really famous tunes in La bohème.

The big aria Cucinotta sings, “Quando m’en vo’” (When I go along), aka “Musetta’s Waltz,” is one of those songs, she said.

“It’s really good,” she said of La bohème. “If you have never been to the opera, this is like the perfect starter opera because it has these big sweeping melodies, and it’s really accessible. It’s about normal people in big, emotional situations.”

Cucinotta said being an opera singer is something she planned to do when she was a little girl along with being a ballerina, a doctor and being on Broadway.

“I was a little girl, and I loved playing dress-up,” she said.

Growing up in Wynnewood, a suburb of Philadelphia, Cucinotta said she sang in the church choir and played the piano.

“Singing was my favorite thing,” she said.

Cucinotta, who obtained a bachelor’s degree in music from Ithaca College in upstate New York, eventually decided on opera.

“I’m Italian, and I really love musical theater,” she said. “I thought that was so cool the way you can tell a story through music and break into dance. I was really moved by that.”

Opera is just a musical heightened, she said.

“It’s like a musical on crack,” she said. “Not only are you singing, but you are singing without amplification. Your voice fills a 2,000-seat hall, and I just thought that was so cool and over the top. It grabbed me.”

Cucinotta and her husband, Dr. Justin Rasner, moved to Seymour in 2016.

“They made my husband an offer her couldn’t refuse job-wise,” Cucinotta said of Schneck Medical Center officials.

After spending most of her life in larger cities, she’s new to small-town living.

“I’ve been really been amazed by how we have been embraced by the community, both professionally and personally for our family,” said Cucinotta, who has a young son with Rasner. “I’m so thrilled to be starting our family here in Seymour.”

She said people don’t realize Indiana has about 20 professional orchestras.

Cucinotta said professional opera singers have to audition just like other performers, especially those in the musical theater business. In fact, she plans to perform in her first play in January.

“Why not?” she said. “It’s sort of the same skill set. You go to school and then perfect your skill.”

After graduating with a master’s degree from Mannes School of Music in New York City, Cucinotta first joined the Shreveport Opera and became a member of Opera Colorado’s ensemble. Both were similar to internships, she said, because people’s voices really develop well until they reach 30.

“So you have to bide your time,” she said.

Some of her recent career highlights include performances with the Louisville Orchestra, a Lincoln Center debut with the Queens Symphony Orchestra and multiple performances with Jack Everly and the Indianapolis Pops.

She also has performed with the Indianapolis Symphonic Choir, Columbus Indiana Philharmonic, Terre Haute Symphony, Baltimore Concert Opera, Asheville Lyric Opera, Knoxville Opera, Opera Tampa and Opera Ithaca.

Cucinotta said she tells friends from the East Coast that moving to Indiana has been the best choice for her career.

“There’s so much local opportunities,” she said. “The Indianapolis airport is a dreamboat. I can fly anywhere.”

At this time, when she’s not busy being a mom, Cucinotta works three, four or maybe five gigs a year.

“You’re an independent contractor, like a plumber,” she said.

She also spends some of her free time with voice lessons.

“It’s really something I enjoy,” she said. “I think performing makes me a better teacher, and teaching makes me a better performer.”

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For information or tickets for Indianapolis Opera Co.’s performance of La bohème Sept. 14 through 16 in Carmel, visit indyopera.org or call 317-843-3800.


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