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Out & About: Musical offerings topped by ‘Rigoletto’

Lifestyle

Out & About: Musical offerings topped by ‘Rigoletto’

Musical offerings dominate this week’s picks of the tix, and it’s a diverse lot.

The biggest draw will be PORTopera’s upcoming production of Giuseppe Verdi’s “Rigoletto.” Artistic director Dona Vaughn has chosen a new look for the famous tale of love and revenge, keeping the action in Mantua, Italy, but setting the timeframe in the 1920s. “Rigoletto” runs for two performances: July 23 and 25.

Miner is a California-based Americana sextet that’s currently on national tour. They’ll motor into Portland’s One Longfellow Square this Saturday.

In Brunswick, the White’s Beach Bluegrass Festival will run July 18-19, featuring mostly New England musicians.

‘Rigoletto’

In any list of history’s greatest operas, one title will surely be found near the top: Giuseppe Verdi’s “Rigoletto,” which has impressed critics and wowed audiences since it was first produced more than 160 years ago.

For its 2014 mainstage offering, PORTopera will present a fully staged, fully professional production of this classic tale of love and revenge for two performances next week.

The enduring success of “Rigoletto” isn’t surprising. “It’s all about passion, lust, sex, heartbreak and revenge,” said Dona Vaughn when I chatted with her during rehearsals last week. “All of these things are present in ‘Rigoletto.’”

Vaughn has been with PORTopera since its inception. For the past 11 years she has been the company’s artistic director and she directs the stage action for each production. Formerly director of the Metropolitan Opera’s Lindemann Young Artist Development Program, Vaughn currently serves as artistic director for operatic productions for the Manhattan School of Music.

In its conventional setting, “Rigoletto” revolves around three principal characters. The Duke of Mantua (Italy) is a licentious womanizer. Rigoletto is the Duke’s hunchback court jester. Gilda is Rigoletto’s 20-something daughter, a lovely young woman at the center of the tale. Plus there are numerous figures from the ducal court and a professional assassin.

I say “conventional setting” because Vaughn has re-imagined “Rigoletto” for the early 20th century, and many of the characters will wear European business suits, circa 1920. But she hasn’t touched a word of Francesco Maria Piave’s libretto, nor a note of Verdi’s music.

Guest maestro will be Stephen Lord, who has conducted for PORTopera several times in the past. The pit orchestra will mostly comprise members of the Portland Symphony.

Vaughn has chosen a fairly young cast, all of whom boast outstanding professional operatic credentials. In the title role, she’s cast Weston Hurt, whose powerful baritone excels at captivating audiences. Tenor Anthony Kalil, who sings the role of the Duke, was named to the Metropolitan Opera’s Lindemann Young Artist Development Program in 2012.

Sparafucile, a hired assassin, will be sung by Solomon Howard, a bass whose prior experience includes both PORTopera and the Metropolitan Opera.

In every opera of its period and style, everything seems to revolve around the soprano. For Gilda, Vaughn cast Hae Ji Chang, a native of South Korea who made her Met debut last year and has worked with maestro Lord before.

I attended several hours of rehearsal last week, and was profoundly impressed by these four singers, both in their individual arias and in complex combinations. I expect that PORTopera’s audiences will respond especially enthusiastically to the petite Chang, who combines youthful loveliness and vulnerability with an intensely powerful soprano voice and a compelling stage presence.

PORTopera’s production will be sung in its original Italian, with English supertitles above the stage.

Two performances are slated for Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall: July 23 and July 25, both at 7:30 p.m. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

Miner

Among the many genres of “roots” music, perhaps the most difficult to precisely define is “Americana.” It’s a genre that certainly incorporates an amalgam of diverse styles, and every artist will have his or her preferences for an exact recipe.

Miner is an interesting ensemble from California that goes under the Americana rubric. Miner is a sextet, and the six instrumental choices seem to be evenly split between traditional American country music, represented by acoustic guitar, mandolin and banjo, and rock, represented by electric bass, electronic keyboard and drum kit. In terms of songwriting, Miner mostly performs originals.

Four of the six musicians are family (sharing the surname Miner) joined by two old fiends. They released a new CD, titled “Into the Morning,” a couple of months ago. Three cuts stand out in my opinion. “Hey Love” and “Come What May” combine a propulsive beat with strong melodic hooks, while “Carousel,” which deals with long-term infatuation, demonstrates the depth of the ensemble’s songwriting.

On the strength of these three cuts, I’ve reserved my tickets for Saturday’s show. The opening act will be the Delta Generators, a group that specializes in old-time Mississippi blues.

Show time is 8 p.m. July 19 at One Longfellow Square, corner of State and Congress in Portland. Call 761-1757.

White’s Beach Family Bluegrass Festival

Down-home ambience and Down East musicians. That’s the core concept behind Maine’s smallest outdoor bluegrass festival, happening this Friday and Saturday in Brunswick.

White’s Beach Family Bluegrass Festival, now in its 17th year, features mostly Maine bands who perform on a stage built to resemble a front porch from days of yore.

(It shouldn’t be confused with the annual Labor Day weekend Thomas Point Beach Bluegrass Festival, which is also in Brunswick and is one of New England’s largest.)

All the White’s Beach bands hail from New England. The most traditional is Merrimack Valley Bluegrass, a fivesome from Massachusetts. It’s a fairly new ensemble, combined from two prior bands, the best-known being the Pine Hill Ramblers.

Also quite traditional are Bobby and Ted, Wilf Clark and the Misty Mountaineers and the Cliff Randall Band. Pretty Girls Sing Soprano is an a capella ensemble from Portland, while Back Woods Road is a threesome that specializes in old-time country blues. The latter two choices reflect a growing tendency for bluegrass festivals to reach out and embrace related genres.

Also slated to appear is Back to Basics, a Brunswick-based fivesome that’s known for its polished musical clowning, including a number of very funny original compositions. Front man/funny man is Bernie Coombs, a past president of the Bluegrass Association of Maine.

As with all alfresco festivals, bring lawn chairs, sunscreen and bug spray.

The venue is White’s Beach campground on the Durham Road. The official stage schedule runs Friday evening and all day Saturday. Informal field picking is continuous throughout the festival. Call the campground at 729-0415.