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Butler County native in Pittsburgh Opera role

Butler County native Marianne Cornetti appears as Azucena in the 2016 production of “Il Trovatore” at the National Center for the Performing Arts in Beijing. Cornetti will reprise the role in the Pittsburgh Opera’s upcoming production of the Giuseppe Verdi opera. SUBMITTED PHOTO

Butler County native Marianne Cornetti is well acquainted with her role in the Pittsburgh Opera’s upcoming production of the Giuseppe Verdi opera “Il Trovatore.”

The opera tells the story of Manrico and the Count di Luna, men on opposite sides of a Civil War in 1400s Spain, who don’t know they are brothers. Both are in love with Leonora; she loves Manrico and spurns the Count’s advances.

Cornetti fills the role of Azucena, the tormented woman who raised Manrico. Years ago, the Count’s father killed Azucena’s mother. Azucena swore to avenge her mother’s death and will do whatever it takes to punish the Count and his family.

After the Count captures Azucena, Manrico attempts to rescue her. When Manrico himself is then captured, Leonora tells the Count she will give herself to him in exchange for Manrico’s freedom. But Leonora and Azucena each have deadly tricks up their sleeves and are determined to have the last laugh.

“This performance will be my 173rd portrayal of this character — I’ve sung it a couple of times,” Cornetti said.

She is in rehearsal for the production that will take the stage at 8 p.m. March 25, 7 p.m. March 28, 7:30 p.m. March 31 and 2 p.m. April 2.

Butler County native Marianne Cornetti is in rehearsal for the Pittsburgh Opera’s production of the Giuseppe Verdi opera “Il Trovatore” that will take the stage at 8 p.m. March 25, 7 p.m. March 28, 7:30 p.m. March 31 and 2 p.m. April 2. EAGLE FILE PHOTO

Despite her familiarity with the role, Cornetti said she learns something every time she steps on stage as Azucena.

“Well, it’s an all-different cast, conductor, stage manager and set you are working on,” she said. “It happens every time. You always learn something new.”

She has been in rehearsals for six hours a day since March 6. She said despite her times playing the role, Azucena “is a difficult role. It’s a big, dramatic Verdi role.”

Of course, she said some things are easier in this production.

“In 1995 at the Atlanta Opera, there’s a scene where I was flung across the stage,” she said. “I rolled three times. I had to do it again and again to get the timing. When I got home I was hardly able to walk,” she said. “It’s that kind of role. The character is fragile and passionate.”

“I take all of the emotions and use them. I’m getting pulled. I’m not getting flung. If they did that now, I’d be down for the count,” Cornetti said.

In addition to the physical challenges of the opera — Cornetti noted that this production uses an inclined stage that adds to the difficulty — there’s the challenge of singing the role.

“It’s low and also high with inflection in the middle part of the voice. It encompasses the whole voice. The dramatization of the voice, it’s very tricky,” she said.

She said she first appeared in “Il Trovatore” in 1989 in the small role of Ines. It’s 24 years later, and she’s playing Azucena. Alexandra Loutsion is Leonora, and Emily Richter plays Ines.

“I give a lot of credit to the opera’s young artist program. It’s putting them out,” she said of Richter.

The cast also includes Lester Lynch (Count di Luna), Jonathan Burton (Manrico), Ashraf Sewailam (Ferrando) and Daniel O’Hearn (Ruiz).

This will be Cornetti’s first role in a Pittsburgh Opera production since portraying the title character in “Rusalka” last fall. The part required the Knoch High School graduate to learn to sing the part in Czech.

She sang with Richter and Burton in “Rusalka,” where Richter portrayed a wood sprite and Burton was The Prince.

Cornetti, who plans to travel to Hong Kong in April to perform in another production of “Il Trovatore,” said she will perform another Czech-language opera, “Jenufa,” at the Chicago Lyric Opera in the fall.

She also is artistic director of Pittsburgh Festival Opera and is on the voice faculty at Carnegie Mellon University.

She has sung at major opera houses all over the world: Milan, Florence, the Vienna State Opera, Rome, Munich, Tel Aviv, Berlin, Tokyo, Shanghai and at the Metropolitan Opera.

But she said she’s always kept a home and address in Natrona Heights.

“I’ve lived abroad, but my address was always here. I never left my address here,” Cornetti said.

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