PORTLAND — Ashley Emerson graduated from Bangor High School in 2002 and from the University of Southern Maine in 2006. She made her debut at the Metropolitan Opera in New York the next year, and has appeared at the Met in 55 performances since.

She’s become so familiar with singing at the Met, she’s come to treat the prestigious Manhattan hall as her home base.

“It feels like ‘Cheers,’ for me,” she said. “I walk in and the security guards say, ‘Hey, welcome back, Ashley. Where have you been?’“

Next time she shows up at the Met, she’ll tell her friends that she’s been home. This week, the 27-year-old soprano returns triumphantly to Maine to play the lead role of Marie in the comic opera “The Daughter of the Regiment.”

PORTopera presents the show, written by Gaetano Donizetti, on Thursday and Saturday at Merrill Auditorium.

“The Daughter of the Regiment” tells a story of war, family and love. It’s a two-act opera, sung in French with English dialogue; supertitles will be presented in English.

The focus of the story is Marie, who is about 16 years old. After the death of her father, she was raised by soldiers of the 21st Regiment of Napoleon’s army.

Emerson is a rising star in the international opera world. Most of her roles at the Met have been fairly small, but the young singer is branching out regionally and internationally, tackling larger roles in places like Los Angeles, Seattle, Atlanta and Pittsburgh.

Before coming back to Maine to perform with PORTopera, she played Marie in the Opera Theatre of St. Louis production of “The Daughter of the Regiment.”

Her career arc has been a steady upward climb.

“I’m having a lot of fun,” Emerson said during an interview after rehearsals last week. “It’s been an exciting season, and I’m really pleased with the way things have been going for me.”

Emerson is the second female opera singer to emerge from Maine in recent years. Kate Aldrich, who grew up in the midcoast, graduated from Lincoln Academy in 1992 and has sung all over the world. She starred in the PORTopera production of “Carmen” in 2005.

Dona D. Vaughn, artistic and stage director for PORTopera, said the presence of Maine talent reflects the high level of training singers receive in Maine schools and at USM, which boasts a well-regarded music school.

PORTopera does not cast Maine singers as an act of kindness, she said, but because their training prepares them to compete with the top singers on the opera scene.

Emerson’s story illustrates Vaughn’s point precisely.

She sang in high school musicals, and discovered a love of opera in 2003 when she was cast in the chorus of PORTopera’s “Lucia.” She was between her freshman and sophomore years at USM at the time.

Emerson returned to school in the fall with a passion for opera. She committed herself at USM, studying with Ellen Chickering and Robert Russell, among others.

The week she graduated from USM in May 2006, she got a call from the Met. James Levine, the Met’s esteemed artistic director, invited her to come to New York to audition for the Lindemann Young Artist Development Program.

She aced the audition, and joined 11 other young singers in the rigorous training program. It put her on stage right away, and also sent her to study in Italy, France and Germany.

Emerson completed the program in 2009, and has been singing regularly since. Her appearance in “The Daughter of the Regiment” is not a culmination of her career path, but a step along the way.

She expects a large contingent of family and friends for this week’s performances, and is having fun showing the cast around Portland.

In this show, she has the added fun of singing with one of her USM instructors. Chickering, a soprano, plays a cameo role as the Duchess of Krakenthorp. The Duchess typically is a non-singing role, but in the PORTopera production, Chickering sings a comic song.

The cast also includes tenor Andrew Bidlack, who plays Tonio. He is Marie’s love interest, although she is engaged to marry someone else. Bidlack received his training at the San Francisco Opera and has performed with New York City Opera and Florida Grand Opera, among others.

Bass-baritone Jan Opalach returns to Portland to play Sgt. Sulpice. He has sung three times before with PORTopera, and his credits include roles with the Met, New York City Opera, Seattle Opera and Santa Fe Opera.

Singing the role of the Marquise is mezzo-soprano Judith Christin, who has performed with the Met, San Francisco Opera, the Lyric Opera of Chicago, Houston Grand Opera, Santa Fe Opera and many others.

Jeffrey Tucker, a bass, sings the role of Hortensius. His resume includes performances with New York City Opera, Sarasota Opera, Opera Omaha and others.

Stephen Lord, artistic director of opera studies at New England Conservatory, joins the creative team, working alongside Vaughn as conductor.

Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at:

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