Butler County native Marianne Cornetti knows she can come home again.
In fact, the Knoch High School and Duquesne University graduate who has become an international opera mezzo-soprano star does that as often as possible.
She is especially looking forward to returning Oct. 30 for the Allegheny Valley Concert Association’s 60th and final subscription season. The organization is believed to be one of the longest-running community arts groups of its kind in the nation.
“Being invited to sing for this farewell season has so many deep, deep emotions connected to it for me,” says Cornetti, who now resides in Rosslyn Farms when she isn’t on the road. “To have sung with the same organization, the Allegheny Valley Concert Association, that had some of the finest entertainers in our American history is overwhelming and so emotional.”
In a year-long medical break from her studies in college, she sang on Sundays for Trinity United Methodist Church in Brackenridge and other churches that needed soloists.
A friend from the Trinity United choir, Marge Jones, introduced her to the Allegheny Valley Concert Association.
“She had season tickets for years and years and went all the time, and I was always invited to join her and her lovely lady friends,” Cornetti says in an interview from Italy, where she is performing. “I had the great pleasure to see so many great artists there. I can’t remember everyone, but for sure I saw Gordon McCrea. It was one of his last public appearances because he had had a stroke and could not walk so well. But his voice was still glorious. I also saw Shirley Jones, and was so impressed with how beautiful her voice was. And there was Roberta Peters and Robert Goulet. Oh man, I was in heaven!”
In its six decades, the concert association has hosted many of the stars of pop, jazz, classical, folk, ethnic and dance. Stage productions included “Porgy and Bess,” “La Boheme,” “Rigoletto,” Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Sorcerer” and the National Afro-American Artists production of “Black Persuasion.”
“I’m very sad that this is our last season, but we are running on a shoestring budget. We have so many faithful members, and they are sad we are ending but we just can’t afford to continue our productions,” says board member Mary Ann Justham of New Kensington. She, like many, are left with memories of performances that brought them joy through the years.
The organization has been successful due to the hard work of the volunteer board of directors and sales volunteers, says the group’s president, Robert Sauro of New Kensington.
“We spend countless hours preparing for each season. No one knows the amount of work it takes to put a season together. The concert association has brought some amazing concerts to the Valley.”
Cornetti, who previously performed on the Valley High School stage in New Kensington Civic Theatre’s production of “My Fair Lady” with Justham, says she considers it an honor to join those who have performed for the concert association through the years.
“To have sat in the seats in the audience in the ‘80 and early ‘90s watching some of the greats in the entertainment business, and then to be standing on the stage Oct 30 singing for the audience that watched those greats, but also watched me grow from singing in a local church as a teenager, into someone who has had the privilege and unbelievable good fortune to have sung in all of the major theaters in the world, it is simply emotional,” she says “I know Marge is looking down and smiling!”
“I love to sing and I love what I am doing,” Cornetti says. “So it doesn’t matter if it’s at Teatro Regio in Parma Italy where I am now, or singing at The Tarentum Campgrounds (where she has performed) or doing a concert in La Coruña Spain, it’s all with the same amount of love and passion and the want to touch the audience.”
She plans to offer a diverse program that showcases her operatic skills, as well her affinity for Broadway tunes and spirituals.
“I started singing in church when I was 12 in St. Mary’s choir in Herman,” she says. “All of the churches in the area that I sang in were places where I could share the gift that God gave me, plus they were building blocks for my becoming more and more comfortable and confident singing in front of larger groups of people. And I still go back and sing for a lot of the churches, because it was the churches that supported me when I was as green as the grass!”
She is amazed at what the Allegheny Valley Concert Association has been able to accomplish with very limited finances, while keeping its ticket prices for an entire season lower than what some people pay for one ticket at a concert in Pittsburgh.
“To think of how many hours of love and dedication of so many it took to keep this series going for all these years at such a high level is heart-warming and mind-boggling,” Cornetti says.
Board member Barbara Saylor Harbison of Cabot says she feels proud to be part of an organization that has brought culture to the Valley for so long, but is also saddened to see it end. “What a blessing this has been for all of us,” she says.
Rex Rutkoski is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.
Several high-profile performers have been featured during the Allegheny Valley Concert Association’s 60 seasons.
• Jazz legend Dave Brubeck
• Piano duo Ferrante and Teicher
• The Osmonds
• The Lettermen
• Dizzy Gillespie
• Della Reese
• Flamenco dancer Jose Greco
• Opera’s Anna Marie Alberghetti
• Carol Lawrence
• Shirley Jones
• Latin band leader Xavier Cugat
• Legendary drummer Gene Krupka
• Boston Pops conductor Arthur Fiedler
• The New Christy Minstrels
• Duquesne Tamburitzans
• Roberta Peters
• Robert Goulet