PORTopera has done it again — presented a well-known opera staged, directed and sung at the highest professional level. Thursday night’s performance of Donizetti’s “The Daughter of the Regiment,” at Merrill Auditorium, was also thoroughly enjoyable and engaging, thanks to the direction of Dona D. Vaugh.

Maine-born soprano Ashley Emerson was delightful in the role of Marie, the orphan who is adopted by a regiment of the French army. She has a tremendous range and a pure, light tone that is ideal for the part. She is also a good actress. Her etiquette-learning scene with the Marquise of Berkenfield, sung by mezzo soprano Judith Christin, was hilarious.

Speaking of hilarious, the aria sung by soprano Ellen Chickering, as the Duchess of Krackenthorp, stole the show near the end of the last scene. Sung in English, I suspect it was largely improvised but written and performed by a master (or should that be mistress?) of comedy.

Emerson was well paired, vocally and visually, with tenor Andrew Bidlack as her lover, Tonio, who joins the regiment to be able to marry her. He was a bit upstaged, in their scenes together, by bass-baritone Jan Opalach as Sergeant Sulplice, who manages to be both the cock of the walk and subversive at the same time.

And we mustn’t forget bass Jeffrey Tucker as Hortensius, the steward and butler of the Marquise, who knows all about the Gilbert and Sullivan-like plot, and is more aristocratic than his mistress.

The costumes and stage direction were impeccable and the set worked well, although I could not understand why the second act took place on a stage both elevated and slanted. Was it intended to imply that the aristocratic regions to which Marie is raised are elevated but precarious?

The large orchestra, conducted by Stephen Lord, contrived to make Donizetti’s somewhat chauvinistic music sound better than it is.

The male and female choruses of “The Daughter of the Regiment” are important to the action and the music. In this production, both were excellent. The chorus members were also made surprisingly individual through costuming and careful exploitation of mannerisms.

“The Daughter of the Regiment” is propaganda revolving around a preposterous story and with no really memorable arias. It is also one of the most endearing and enduring of operas, as evidenced by the tumultuous applause that greeted all the principals, especially Emerson, at the final curtain.

If there are seats left for tonight’s performance, it would be well worth pursuing them.

Christopher Hyde’s Classical Beat column appears in the Maine Sunday Telegram. He can be reached at:

[email protected]