Out & About: Opera arias, musical theater and bluegrass music

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As the middle of summer arrives in Maine, the state’s many seasonal arts and entertainment activities are in full flower.

One of Maine’s biggest events happens July 30, when PortOpera celebrates its 15th anniversary with a grand concert of favorite arias.

There’s a fine choice of musical theater: “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” is running in Brunswick, while “The Mikado” holds the boards in Arundel.

Ossipee Valley Bluegrass Festival, one of the state’s top musical offerings, runs three days this weekend in South Hiram.

PORTopera’s 15th anniversary concert

Making the best of a bad situation is the big idea behind PORTopera’s 15th anniversary concert on July 30. The originally announced plan for a fully staged operatic production was scrapped last winter when PORTopera’s trustees reluctantly concluded that the economic risks were too great, and a possible financial failure this summer could imperil the company’s existence.

They’re not alone in dealing with the recession. A major Boston opera producer scaled back earlier this summer, and a New Hampshire company – that resembles PORTopera in many ways – simply went out of business.

Despite the sour economic background, PORTopera’s replacement event should be a joyous affair. It will re-unite seven singers who’ve performed with the company in a sort of “greatest hits” program of famous arias from previous productions.

I’ve seen each and every one of these previous PORTopera offerings, and I reserved my seats early for this reunion concert.

Featured singers for the concert include Pamela Armstrong (soprano), Jeneice Golbourne (mezzo-soprano), Sandra Lopez (soprano), Michael Mayes (baritone), Lauren McNeese (mezzo-soprano), Jan Opalach (bass-baritone), and Gaston Rivero (tenor).

Arias (songs) from previous productions will be reprised in concert format. These operas include Rossini’s “Il Barbiere di Siviglia,” Mozart’s “Le Nozze di Figaro,” Verdi’s “La Traviata,” Puccini’s  “La Boheme,” Leoncavallo’s “I Pagliacci,” Mascagni’s “Cavalleria Rusticana” and Bizet’s “Carmen.”

PORTopera artistic director Dona D. Vaughn will stage the concert, which will feature a full operatic orchestra, with Portland Symphony maestro Robert Moody on the podium.

The concert is slated for 7:30 p.m. July 30 at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall. Call PortTix at 842-0800 or visit portopera.org on the Internet.

‘Dirty Rotten Scoundrels’

The make-believe world of theater is a magical place where the normal rules of behavior and laws can be set aside for a few hours of innocent entertainment. Such is the case with Maine State Music Theatre’s current show, which is built around a trio of con artists and swindlers.

Of course we detest these despicable characters when we see them in the newspapers and other media, but four years ago a Broadway show – with book by Jeffrey Land and score by David Yazbek – was constructed around a lovable trio of entertaining and engaging scam artists. Titled “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” and set in a wealthy enclave on the French Riviera, it ran for more than a year and garnered 10 Tony Award nominations.

MSMT has mounted a full professional (Equity contract) production that ought to draw big audiences. And theater-goers won’t be swindled out of their ticket money; “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” offers a wonderful evening of laughter and fun.

Tops among the cast is longtime MSMT veteran Mark Jacoby, who’s totally convincing in his role of a smooth-talking phony European prince, a pretender to a fictitious throne who preys on gullible American women who want to get close to royalty – both financially and romantically.

Tops among the women is Charis Leos, whose comic portrayal of a filthy-rich Oklahoma oil heiress who’s seeking her umpteenth husband provides the evening’s most outstandingly funny moments. Other fine performances are given by Chuck Ragsdale as an apprentice con-man and Erin Maguire as a lovely and very accomplished con-woman. Karen K. Edissi, another longtime MSTM favorite, and David Hess, take the surprise romantic roles.

Maine State Music Theatre presents “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” through Aug. 1 at Pickard Theater on the Bowdoin College campus in Brunswick. Call the box office at 725-8769 or visit msmt.org.

‘The Mikado’

The make-believe world of Gilbert and Sullivan is a very special theatrical place, a delightfully topsy-turvy domain where the normal rules of human relationships tilt acutely askew and action revolves erratically around a comically off-center axis.

Few stage creations exhibit this wonderful thespian eccentricity better than “The Mikado,” which opened in 1885 and became one of the enduring masterpieces of William Schwenck Gilbert, who wrote the script and lyrics, and Arthur Sullivan, who penned the music. Although it dates from Victorian England, “The Mikado” remains a popular and frequently produced show.

For its third offering of the summer season, Arundel Barn Playhouse has mounted a splendid professional (non-Equity) production of this landmark Gilbert and Sullivan collaboration.

The action is nominally set in Japan in the 1880s, but it’s clear that librettist Gilbert was using the exotic Orient as an intentionally transparent guise to satirize Britain of his own day, especially focusing on the declining social and economic status of English nobility and clergy.

Among the cast, top male performances are given by Ken Clark as the Lord High Executioner, a timid man who wouldn’t hurt a flea, and Ryan Wonnacott as Pooh-Bah, a haughty noble. Among the women, I especially liked Colleen Gallagher in the role of the ingenue and young Monica Willey as comic old crone whose romantic designs drive much of the action.

Arundel Barn Playhouse, 53 Old Post Rd. (just off Rt. 1) presents “The Mikado” through Aug. 1. Call 985-5552, or visit arundelbarnplayhouse.com.

Ossipee Valley Bluegrass Festival

For the past eight years, one of my favorite summer events is the Ossipee Valley Bluegrass Festival, an annual alfresco happening that runs July 24-26. The venue is the Ossipee Valley Fairground in South Hiram, less than an hour west of Portland. Hosts are Raetha Stoddard and Bill Johnson.

This year’s stage schedule runs Friday afternoon and evening, all day Saturday and most of the day on Sunday. Friday’s headline band is the Gibson Brothers, from upstate New York, and top billing on Saturday and Sunday goes to the SteelDrivers, a Nashville ensemble.

Top Maine bands are the Muddy Marsh Ramblers, from the Portland area, and Bits ‘n’ Pieces, from the Midcoast. Ossipee’s competitions – signature events for this festival – include a guitar championship, a banjo contest and a showcase for songwriters.

Bring your lawn chairs, sunscreen and bug spray, and note that hot July days can turn very chilly at night. Follow the signs from Cornish. Visit ossipeevalley.com for more information.




Sidebar Elements

pnmsoutabout072209.jpgMark Jacoby and Charis Leos are two of the characters in “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels,” which runs through Aug. 1 at the Maine State Music Theatre.