Imagine the scene. It’s a balmy summer evening in Portland and the stately, wooden doors of the Victoria Mansion are thrown open. Guests are seated, standing, even peeking over the banisters of the great stairwell, completely riveted. The serene sounds of “The Flower Duet” by Delibes spill out across the vestibule, enchanting all in their midst.

At the 5th annual Opera at the Mansion on Monday night, a gathering of about 75 were treated to moments of auditory bliss when some of the featured performers of PORTopera’s Thursday night performance of Tosca delighted guests with both opera and show tunes.

“It’s lovely,” said Richard Ringel of Biddeford, an opera lover. “It’s just spectacular, especially when they come down the stairs, singing. It’s so personal and intimate.”

Ringel sat in the recently restored vestibule of the mansion with fellow enthusiasts, including John Cooper of Harpswell and Michael Doyle of Portland, who attended with his wife, Vickie Labbe. Founding PORTopera president Jack Riddle attended with his wife, Bonnie.

Guests were welcomed by Ann Elderkin, president of the PORTopera board; Tom Johnson, executive director of the Victoria Mansion; and Arlene Palmer Schwind, curator of the historical landmark and secretary of the PORTopera board.

Schwind shared some history about the mansion as well as her excitement for the caliber of the singers, including Eliza Bonet, Adam Diegel, Carina DiGianfilippo, Lucas Levy, Robert Mellon, Josh Quinn and Timothy Steele.

“It’s summer in Maine, and you are sitting in Maine’s first summer house!”

The audience gave rousing applause to welcome James Morris, an international opera star who appears regularly at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City and who was in the audience. He sang the part of Scarpia in “Tosca” at the Merrill Auditorium on Thursday. Dona D. Vaughn, artistic director of PORTopera, was by his side.

“This is a joint fundraiser for both organizations,” explained Schwind, who attended with her husband, Bill. “It features fabulous singing in a fabulous house with great acoustics.”

Carla Rigby of York, a descendant of Olive Merrill, the wife of the mansion’s original owner, Ruggles Morse, admired the splendor of it all. “I’m so glad this house was saved!” she exclaimed with a smile.

“This is such a wonderful fit for the mansion,” explained Johnson. “The combination of this ornate interior and opera gives you an experience you could not have anywhere else.”

Margaret Logan is a freelance writer who lives in Scarborough. She can be contacted at:

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