Opera can be intimidating
for a lot of people. The genre is often
performed in grand opera houses and concert
halls where the musicians and singers
seem to be miles away on a stage separated
by a wall of formal protocol and etiquette.
Opera divas and famous tenors conjure
up an image of a self-absorbed superstar.
Operas have a reputation for being long
marathons that go on for hours.
On Tuesday, March 9, renowned mezzo-
soprano Katherine Calcamuggio Donner
and pianist Lisa Lewis made opera and
classical music accessible and welcoming
in the Lovatt Room.
Calcamuggio Donner and Lewis connected
with the audience throughout the
performance. Calcamuggio Donner interpreted
the lyrics of songs written in foreign
languages and provided meaning and
historical context for each piece.
“Music is a universal language,” she
said. “Each song has something from the
human experience that we can connect to.”
Calcamuggio Donner did not claim the
stage as her own but shared it with Lewis
as an equal partner.
“Pianists make or break a singer,” she
said. “They’re also great psychotherapists
The concert opened with a collection of
folk songs arranged by American composer
Aaron Copland. Children were encouraged
to participate in fun songs like “I Bought
Me a Cat.”
A series of German lieder, or songs, by
19th-century composers Robert Schumann,
his wife Clara Schumann and Johannes
Brahms followed the American folk songs.
Calcamuggio Donner said the first songs
were based on love letters written between
Clara and Robert.
A song by Brahms was based on his unrequited
love for several women, including
Clara Schumann. Robert Schumann died at
a young age, leaving Clara to raise eight
children. Brahms was there to offer emotional
and occasional financial support.
Calcamuggio Donner moved the audience
from Germany to Italy for a set of
songs by Giovanni Paisiello, Vincenzo
Bellini and Paolo Sogno. The names may
not be familiar, but the themes of their
“The Italians love to sing about getting
scorned in love,” Calcamuggio Donner explained.
She brought the deep heartbreak
in each song to life through her voice and
Lewis played a solo on the piano, a
jazzed up version of Fats Waller’s hit
“Ain’t Misbehavin.’” The concert ended
with a collection of show tunes including
“Right as Rain” by Harold Arlen and Jerome
Kern’s “Lovin’ that Man of Mine.”
`Calcamuggio Donner has performed
with the Kentucky Opera, Evansville Philharmonic
Orchestra, Louisville Orchestra
and Green Bay Civic Symphony among
others. Her repertoire includes leading
roles in Verdi’s “Requiem,” Beethoven’s
Ninth Symphony, Handel’s “Messiah”
and Richard Strauss’ opera “Ariadne auf
Calcumuggio Donner is a professor of
voice at the University of Lousville.
Lewis studied piano and organ at the
University of Louisville where she is a
staff accompanist for the school’s music
department. Lewis has performed on the
organ, piano and harpsichord across America
The Piatigorsky Foundation in New
York and the Pinedale Fine Arts Council
sponsored the concert.