Out & About: Opera Maine presents ‘La Traviata’

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Giuseppe Verdi is opera’s most popular composer and “La Traviata” is his most popular work. That’s according to an online data resource that tracks such recondite statistics. And Verdi’s masterpiece is what’s coming up next week as Opera Maine presents its 23rd mainstage production in Portland.

Paul Bisaccia is a pianist with a passion for the music of George Gershwin. He’ll play in Ocean Park this Sunday.

The Sebago-Long Lake Music Festival takes a journey on July 25. The festival’s third concert of 2017 is titled “A Postcard from Russia,” and comprises a quartet of classical pieces.

Amy Black is a singer-songwriter who’s totally anchored in Americana. She’ll be performing July 27 in Portland.

‘La Traviata’

Giuseppe Verdi is the world’s most popular opera composer – so well known in his own country that the Italian government once printed his picture on a banknote.

Some recently compiled statistics prove that he’s No. 1 globally. Operabase.com, the online resource that covers every opera company in the world, says that over the past five seasons Verdi’s works have been produced more than 3,700 times, for a total of more than 16,200 performances.

Of Verdi’s 25-plus operas, “La Traviata” is by far the top choice, getting almost 870 productions totaling nearly 4,200 performances.

For 2017, add more to the tally. “La Traviata” is the choice for Opera Maine’s 23rd annual production, with two performances slated. (Opera Maine did “La Traviata” previously, in 1998.)

The Italian libretto was written by Francesco Maria Piave, and its English subtitle is “The Fallen Woman.” The story follows a famous Parisian courtesan, the lead soprano, who gives up the fast party life for her one true love, the lead tenor. In typical 19th-century operatic style, the struggle for true love gets very contentious, and ends tragically with the heroine’s death.

I recently chatted with Opera Maine artistic director Dona Vaughn, who has been with the company since its 1995 inception. Vaughn offered a ready explanation for the show’s enduring popularity: “‘La “Traviata’ encompasses life’s passages and passions: love, sex, money and death.”

The principal cast features soprano Maria Natale, tenor Mackenzie Whitney and baritone Joo Won Kang. The latter plays the tenor’s father, who is dead set against his son’s proposed marriage to the notorious former party girl. All three are conservatory-trained professional singers embarked on stellar international careers.

This will be a massive production, Vaughn told me. The chorus numbers 36, which means a huge party scene. It’s so big that Vaughn has specified 1930s-era costuming, explaining that there’s simply not enough room on stage for all the large 19th-century gowns required by strictly traditional productions.

The Opera Maine Orchestra will number nearly 40 professional musicians. Stephen Lord, the company’s principal maestro, will conduct.

Opera Maine presents “La Traviata” at 7:30 p.m. July 26 and 28 at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

Paul Bisaccia

A passion for the music of George Gershwin is the driving force behind the career of pianist Paul Bisaccia, who will be playing this Sunday on the second date of the 2017 Ocean Park Music Festival.

Among his distinctions, Bisaccia is the only person to record the entire piano music of Gershwin, who was a Broadway star composer of the 1920s and 1930s. Many of Gershwin’s songs have become standards of the American Songbook, including “Swanee,” “S’Wonderful” and “I Got Rhythm.”

Sunday’s performance will also include the entire original piano score for “Rhapsody in Blue,” which has enjoyed enormous popularity through the decades in its orchestral adaptation. The 1924 piano version is far less often performed.

Bisaccia’s performance is slated for the Temple in Ocean Park, a unique wooden octagonal structure, an architectural gem that dates from 1881.

Catch Paul Bisaccia July 23 at 7:30 p.m. at the Temple in Ocean Park, 50 Temple Ave. in Old Orchard Beach. Call 934-9068.

Sebago-Long Lake Music Festival

You probably don’t want to hear any more about Russia, but please bear with me. The following isn’t about politicians, spies, hackers or uranium dealers. It’s about the next concert at the Sebago-Long Lake Music Festival, and CNN won’t be there.

Artistic director Mihae Lee has titled the third of her five classical chamber music programs “A Postcard from Russia,” and she’s picked four works from composers of various schools and periods. The most popular by far is Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, who will be represented by his string sextet titled “Souvenir of Florence,” a 19th-century piece that combines lush melodies with flowing harmonies.

The three other composers represent the 20th century: Reinhold Gliere, Sergei Prokofiev and Dmitri Shostakovich.

In addition to pianist Lee, seven other performers will take the stage. These include Laurie Kennedy, the very popular longtime principal violist with the Portland Symphony Orchestra. Kennedy previously served two decades as the festival’s artistic director.

The concert takes place at 7:30 p.m. July 25 at Deertrees Theatre, a unique wooden architectural gem that dates from 1936. It’s located at 156 Deertrees Road, about a mile out of Harrison village. Call 583-6747.

Amy Black

Life’s passages and passions, boosted by whiskey and wine, are traditional elements of Americana, a catch-all music category that covers both country and blues. Those two sub-genres are the specialty of singer-songwriter Amy Black.

In the past few years she’s been focusing on major locales of Americana. A couple of years ago she released a recording made at Alabama’s legendary Muscle Shoals Sound Studio. Shortly thereafter, her supporting tour came through Portland, and I attended a concert. I was profoundly impressed by her ability to tell stories in song, capturing the essence of character and situation in lyrics and music.

Last month she released “Memphis,” a CD that explores the sound of that legendary Mississippi River music city. I plan to be there when her latest national tour motors through Portland again next week.

Black is best known for writing and performing her own material. My personal favorite songs are “Meet Me On the Dance Floor,” an upbeat tune about love’s first impressions, and “Whiskey and Wine,” where pleasure and pain take equal prominence.

Black impresses critics and she sells out her countless shows on the coffeehouse circuit. “Amy Black has a rich voice layered with a light, natural vibrato,” commented reviewer Holley Dey, writing for No Depression. “It’s a smooth, seductive sound and one that easily commands attention.”

Catch Amy Black at 8 p.m. July 27 at One Longfellow Square, corner of Congress and State in Portland. Call 761-1757.

Amy Black is a singer-songwriter who specializes in Americana. She is scheduled to perform July 27 in Portland.

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