Remembering heroes: Singer recalls veteran grandfather ahead of concert

During a patriotic concert that honors military veterans, one sailor will be present in spirit for the features soloist.

Donata Cucinotta, an opera veteran who recently moved with her husband from New Jersey to Seymour, will hold the memory of her paternal grandfather in her heart at the 16th Annual SALUTE! concert with the Columbus Indiana Philharmonic on May 27. Philadelphia native Dr. Salvatore Cucinotta, a World War II U.S. Navy physician who earned a Bronze Star for valor and helped a team develop the ejection seat for pilots, died in 2007.

“He was an important figure for all of us,” Donata Cucinotta said, referring to her family when speaking by phone from New York, where she is rehearsing a show for the Center for Contemporary Opera.

In the shadow of the Bartholomew County Memorial For Veterans downtown, the soprano vocalist will sing patriotic tunes including traditional numbers such as “God Bless America,” along with contemporary songs such as “American Anthem.”

[sc:text-divider text-divider-title=”Story continues below gallery” ]

In a salute to the Indiana bicentennial, she also will croon Indiana standards such as “On the Banks of the Wabash,” “Far Away” and “Back Home Again in Indiana.”

“My husband is excited that I’m singing ‘Stardust,’” she said.

Justin Rasner, a Seymour physician, has been a longtime fan of Frank Sinatra, who made the Hoagy Carmichael tune his own for decades, his wife explained.

Although the Philadelphia native has seldom been home since her recent move to southern Indiana, she and her spouse caught their first Philharmonic concert in February — long before she even knew she would be singing with them — and were excited by the small-town support and the metro-city excellence.

“It was fantastic,” she said. “What a wonderful ray of light. Here we have this amazing culture just — what? — maybe 10 or 15 minutes up the road. And I will say this: they sounded as good as any orchestra I’ve heard anywhere in the country.

“Look — I’ve sung with a professional orchestra at (the former) Avery Fisher Hall (in Lincoln Center) in New York. The Philharmonic was totally equal to that group. That blew my mind.”

The multifaceted performer earned her actor’s equity card as a dancer in an off-Broadway show and once performed an aria while on pointe much of the time in a comic opera scene.

“That’s the key to survival in the arts these days,” she said.

“You have to diversify your portfolio. You can’t just stand there and sing anymore.”

Recent opera roles include Nedda in “Pagliacci,” with Opera in the Heights in Houston, Texas; Donna Elvira, in “Don Giovanni,” at Opera Ithaca in Ithaca, New York; and Aldonza in “Man of la Mancha,” at Asheville (North Carolina) Lyric Opera.

It seems fitting that such a traveler also will sing the 1986 Linda Ronstadt-James Ingram pop song “Somewhere Out There” on the SALUTE! program. The Grammy-winning number climbed near the top of the charts in early 1987.

Philharmonic music director David Bowden first used the hit at the 2012 SALUTE!

“The lyrics convey the love felt by two people separated by vast distances but cheered by the belief that their love will eventually reunite them,” Bowden said. “In the Gulf War era, the song became a means of communication between a child and parent.”

Cucinotta praised her spouse of three years for being willing to share her with the road — and for giving her space even when she’s home rehearsing and working.

“He’s supportive enough that he will let me stay in my little cave with my piano and then make sure that I at least stop long enough to eat,” she said with a laugh.

When’s she’s home in Seymour in the couple’s first house (“Since I travel literally half the year, I never thought we’d get to live in a real house like grown-ups”), she loves to make pasta and bake.

She also looks forward to simply relaxing on the back porch with a glass of wine and watching the birds. But sometimes, she’s got to fly. She loves fitness enough that she finished second in her age group in the Delaware Diamondman Triathalon a couple of years ago.

“I think my best event is probably the quick-change section,” she cracked. “They time you while you’re transitioning from things like the swim to the bike. Because I’ve always been a theater kid, I can do a quick change like nobody’s business.

“I’ve really been a professional costume-changer — and I think that’s how I edged out the third-place person.”

She’s apparently a quick study, too. She speaks four languages and has more than once stepped into roles with only two or three weeks to learn all her songs.

“Apparently, I can learn anything in two weeks,” she said with a laugh. “I remembered the other day that I once learned all of ‘The Merry Widow’ on the subway.”

[sc:pullout-title pullout-title=”Saluting their service” ][sc:pullout-text-begin]

What: The Columbus Indiana Philharmonic’s 16th Annual SALUTE! concert honoring military veterans. Patriotic music will include theme songs of the different military branches, “God Bless America,” and “American Anthem,” plus Hoosier standards such as “Back Home in Indiana.”

When: 7 p.m. May 27.

Where: Bartholomew County Memorial For Veterans’ lawn, Second and Jackson streets in downtown Columbus. Organizers encourage people to bring lawn chairs or blankets for seating.

Admission: Free.

Information: 812-376-2638 or