Everyone in Bensonhurst knows Diana Marie Paunetto. The 11-year-old budding opera singer is a fixture at every parade, festival, and street fair in southwestern Brooklyn.
Diana, who also performs Broadway-style, holds the distinction of being the only young Brooklynite who can belt out Italy’s very complex national anthem, according to her mother Anna Marie Paunetto.
“We are very much involved in the community. It’s a part of our life — to keep our Italian traditions alive and give back to the church,” says Anna Marie.
This year, at the Columbus Day parade, the CD player broke, so Diana performed a spectacular a capella rendition of the Italian song. (She apparently also sings American national anthem.) Her musical theater career looks promising: Diana has auditioned and gotten call-backs to perform at the U.S. Open and The Sound of Music, though ultimately she didn’t make the cut.
Diana’s next act is coming up on November 7, at New Utrecht Reformed Church (1827 84th Street), where she will joined on stage by her brother Brandon Thomas and friends Michela Cristina and Giulia Nicole for an evening of Italian music.
Diana spoke to us over the phone last week about what it feels like to be in the spotlight, her dreams for the future, and her favorite things about Bensonhurst.
Can you tell us about the first time knew you wanted sing professionally?
Were you nervous?
I was so nervous, and the first time I did it, I got a little bit of butterflies. And then one performance I threw up in the car, but then I felt better and I performed anyway.
How do you deal with stage fright?
I deal with stage fright by counting to ten and I center myself and I take deep breaths. If that doesn’t work, I just don’t think about the people. I just look at something and I see that thing and don’t focus on anything else.
What is the most stressful part of auditioning?
It’s exciting if I audition for something, and I get called back. I get super hyped. For example, I got called back for the U.S. Open and I was super hyped, but unfortunately I didn’t make the cut.
In The Sound of Music, I went all the way to the director’s round, which is the last round. Even though I didn’t make the cut, that experience was really exciting, because I got to see a lot of people and made some friends. And it was a learning experience.
Tell me about some of the performances you are working on right now.
Well, I go to IS 288 David A. Boody where I’m in a musical theater magnet, so I pretty much sing every day. I auditioned for my school’s production of Dragon Slayer, an anti-bullying play, and got the role of Gossip.
I’m also in the orchestra, where I play violin, and in a hip hop dance class. On the weekends, I’m a senior soloist at Saint Saviour’s in Park Slope.
Which performers would you like to sing with?
I hope someday to perform the duet Con te Partiro or Canto Della Terra with Andrea Bocelli. I love to listen to him; he helps me relax. I also love Kristin Chenoweth, Idina Menzel, and Sierra Boggess, all of which are exceptional Broadway performers. Kristin Chenoweth and Sierra Boggess were classically trained as is Sarah Brightman — who I admire also.
What do you do in your free time?
In my spare time I like to read, and I like to practice my songs, my violin, piano, and ballet.
What do you love most about Bensonhurst?
My favorite thing about the neighborhood is that it is very historic and there’s a lot of history around us. Last year, when I was in 5th grade, I was at P.S. 95 (The Gravesend), and next door was the Lady Moody house. My mother is working to help get it landmarked. It’s cool to have that kind of history all around.
I also like how people from all different cultures come together as one on certain holidays like the Santa Rosalia Feast and the Columbus Day Parade.