One of the summer’s best music festivals takes place this weekend, and Portland’s only resident opera company is busily preparing its big summer production. Both have been high on my personal must-do list for years.
Ossipee Valley Music Festival got its start with bluegrass in 1999. Since then its offerings have broadened to include many traditional artists not strictly associated with bluegrass, plus others who draw on traditional music to create their own modern sound.
There’s a homecoming mood at PORTopera this summer. The company, which features top-tier professional productions starring internationally acclaimed singers, has turned to a Maine native for the title role in “La Fille du Regiment,” Gaetano Donizetti’s delightfully melodic romantic comedy.
Ashley Emerson got started in the PORTopera chorus and has moved on to major roles at the Metropolitan Opera and elsewhere. PORTopera welcomes her back as high-spirited Marie for two performances, July 28 and 30.
Variations on old-time American musical traditions is the dominant theme of one of Maine’s most intriguing music festivals. The Ossipee Valley Music Festival got its start a dozen years ago as one of Maine’s many bluegrass happenings, but in recent years its lineup of artists has broadened to include performers who have branched off in different directions.
The festival – two stages plus numerous parallel side events – runs through July 24 at the Ossipee Valley Fairground in South Hiram, about an hour west of Portland. It is produced by Raetha Stoddard and Bill Johnson, two music fans who also run a nearby apple orchard. I’ve attended the Ossipee Valley festival nearly every year since its inception, and eagerly await its return every July.
Diverse and different are two adjectives that thematically and stylistically link most of Ossipee Valley’s band lineup. Saturday’s headliner is a prime example. Peter Rowan is a guitarist-singer-songwriter whose professional career began with Bill Monroe and his Blue Grass Boys, the band that set the standard of the genre for many years. Rowan also did a stint with Old & In the Way, a side project led by Grateful Dead front-man Jerry Garcia. Over the course of his five-decade career Rowan has garnered five Grammy nominations.
In recent years Rowan has been fronting his own bluegrass band, a four-man group that consists of dyed-in-the wool traditional players with more than 100 years of combined recording and performance experience.
The band’s most recent CD is “Legacy,” released last fall. It features both traditional selections and “traditionally informed but fresh original songs.” Guest appearances by Del McCoury, Ricky Skaggs and Gillian Welch testify to Rowan’s standing in the old-tome American music community.
Stoddard, who does most of Ossipee Valley’s programming, also likes to spotlight female artists. Here are a few of her picks for 2011:
• The Parkington Sisters hail from a family of musical traditions. Lydia, Rose, Nora, Sarah and Ariel Parkington were raised in a wildly musical household, but despite their common musical backgrounds the sisters only formed their eponymous group six years ago in Provincetown, Mass. The Parkington Sisters ensemble combines five dynamic voices with five confident instruments. Lydia plays cello, Rose guitar and piano, Ariel, Sarah and Nora play violin and viola.
• Sierra Hull is one of the youngest, a singer-mandolinist who has been performing professionally since the age of 8 when she was featured at an International Bluegrass Music Association up-and-coming artists showcase. She has appeared in numerous IBMA teen showcases in recent years. Now a young adult, Hull recently released “Secrets,” her debut CD.
• Red Molly is a trio of young ladies – one of whom is actually named Molly – who first harmonized together at a bluegrass festival in 2004. Liking their sound and feeling comfortable with each other’s styles, they formed Red Molly and have been touring bluegrass festivals and other old-time music venues since then. They’ve released three CDs.
• Eilen Jewell is a Boston-based singer-songwriter who has begun to visit Maine fairly frequently. Although she’s mostly promoting her own compositions these days, Jewell is thoroughly grounded in traditional country fare. One of her most recent recording projects was a tribute album of Loretta Lynn songs.
The Ossipee Valley main stage runs Thursday evening, all day Friday and Saturday and most of Sunday. There’s also a second stage, which mostly features New England performers, such as the Bagboys and the ski-country singer-songwriter duo of Thom Perkins and Kathy Bennett.
Several competitions include the New England Flatpicking Championships and a songwriting contest. Food offerings abound and the general atmosphere is definitely both musical and merry. This is an alfresco affair, with tent available in case of rain.
For the full schedule, visit www.ossipeevalley.com on the Internet.
Over its decade and a half of presenting world-class professional singers in fully staged operas, PORTopera has only once before had an artist from Maine in the title role.
This summer marks the second occasion. Bangor native Ashley Emerson will star in Gaetano Donizetti’s “La Fille du Regiment” (“Daughter of the Regiment”) one of opera’s best-loved showcases for thrillingly melodic music and vocal fireworks.
It’s also a homecoming for PORTopera. While a teen, Emerson got hooked on opera in 2003 when she won a part in the chorus the company’s production of “Lucia di Lammermoor.” Since then she’s pursued a career in singing and opera. Steps along her pathway to success have included the University of Southern Maine School of Music, where she studied with voice professor Ellen Chickering, and the Lindemann Young Artist Program of the Metropolitan Opera, which is led by Dona D. Vaughn, PORTopera’s founding stage director and now its artistic director.
Emerson is now enjoying a career in professional opera and has landed roles at the Met and top regional companies.
“Fille” is a high-spirited romp and an exemplar of the bel canto (Italian for “beautiful singing”) style. The title character is Marie, who was found years before as an orphan on a battlefield and was adopted by a regiment of soldiers. Now a beautiful young woman, Marie falls in love with the bravest and most handsome young warrior, a tenor played by Andrew Bidlack.
There are complications. The most problematic is a proposed arranged marriage to a nobleman, the proverbial wrong man. But this is comic opera, and the situation is happily resolved in an exquisitely melodic fashion.
“La Fille du Regiment” will be sung in its original French, with English supertitles. A full orchestra and chorus will be led by PORTopera veteran conductor Stephen Lord. There are two 7:30 p.m. performances at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall: July 28 and July 30. Call PortTix at 842-0800.
The Peter Rowan Bluegrass Band headlines this weekend’s Ossipee Valley Music Festival.