Local opera singer ready to share her love of music in upcoming concert

Seymour resident and international opera singer Donata Cucinotta grew up loving to sing, and being an Italian descent, she learned at a young age the secret to making great pasta sauce.

“It’s a scientific fact that if you sing to your pasta sauce, it will taste better,” she said.

Cucinotta described herself as one of those kids who would not stop singing and was exposed to opera at an early age when she grew up in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

“My parents weren’t really singers, but they would play their favorite operas every Sunday when they would make the Sunday sauce,” she said. “I could not get enough of music, and it was the only thing that stimulated my brain.”

Her mother started to put her in the local choir as well as piano and ballet lessons. In high school, she started to consider opera as a serious career path.

“I really love the operatic style of singing. It’s so over the top,” she said. “I also just love the raw acoustic experience because when you sing in an operatic style, you are unamplified. There are no microphones, just your human voice.”

Cucinotta said she often feels like a human trumpet when she thinks of singing onstage, and this holiday season, she is excited to bring a program to Seymour that will showcase her talents along with those of a professional string trio.

Cucinotta will perform an eclectic mix of sacred Advent and Christmas music during a concert at 7:30 p.m. Sunday at St. Ambrose Catholic Church, 325 S. Chestnut St.

Tickets are $10 and may be purchased at the church office. For information, visit stambroseseymour.org/advent-christmas-concert.

“Originally, I was hired to do it by a different organization up in Indianapolis, but then I thought, ‘Why not also bring it to Seymour?’” she said. “I love my friends, family and connections that I have here, and not all of them will necessarily have the time or ability to be able to drive an hour north of Indianapolis for a concert, so why not do it for the people I love?”

Some of the songs she plans to sing include “Ave Maria,” “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” and a special world premiere of a new arrangement, “Adoration of the Shepherds,” by pianist and composer Felix Jarrar.

“I wanted to make sure all of this music is appropriate, beautiful and accessible,” Cucinotta said. “Felix made this special arrangement just for this concert, so it is pretty special.”

Cucinotta has been honing her craft in the opera industry for 15 years, starting her study in vocal performance at Ithica College in upstate New York. She worked with many young artists programs and opera companies, eventually landing her first performance with Shreveport Opera in Shreveport, Louisiana.

“We did a tour of ‘Hansel and Gretel,’ where we toured different communities in the Shreveport area,” she said. “I also did small roles and understudy work. It was a great way to hone your craft before you jump into the water and do it yourself.”

Over the years, she said her voice has grown, allowing her to take on bigger roles, something she wouldn’t have been able to do in college. Even though her voice has developed, she said she is still constantly working to perfect certain aspects of her performances.

“The top of the mountain is the bottom of the next, and you have to keep climbing,” she said.

Cucinotta said she often thinks of singing opera as playing baseball, thinking what kind of ball she is going to throw to the crowd to grab their attention.

“There is so much that goes into the operatic style singing,” she said. “There is emotion, of course, and it’s my job to make you feel it. Really good opera is not just singing. It’s also acting and storytelling.”

Cucinotta said she used to be intimidated by smaller spaces when she was first starting out, but now as a seasoned performer, she looks forward to the smaller venues that allow her to make connections with individuals in the crowd.

Over the years, Cucinotta has witnessed opera become more reachable and diverse than ever before.

“Opera is more accessible than people give it credit for,” she said. “There are now subtitles at the theater, and you don’t have to dress up. You can come as you are.”

In her travels to different cities and throughout her years of performance, Cucinotta describes the life of an opera singer similar to living like a monk.

“Ninety percent of the work is you alone with a piano plunking notes, studying your score and doing background work,” she said. “It’s such a specific niche, and it’s also tricky to balance life on top of this with being a mom and a wife.”

Cucinotta can speak English, French, Italian and German and knows American Sign Language, deciding it was just easier to learn the whole language instead of a few words when performing a song in a different language.

“It’s important to juggle and having a balanced life also makes you a better artist,” she said.

Cucinotta is continuing to stay in shape for the next audition season, saying this is the first year opera companies are hearing auditions since before the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I am just so drawn to the power of the human voice,” she said. “I think it is an honor to have been in this business for as long as I have.”