PORTopera’s Young Artists Program is doing something entirely different this year: a world premiere of the opera version of “Cafe Vienna” by American composer Richard Pearson Thomas.

PORTopera Artistic Director Dona Vaughn had conducted a musical-style production of the work — dialogue with musical numbers — and suggested the composer rewrite it in operatic style (music with some connecting dialogue) for the Young Artists performances in June and July.

The result is Viennese circa 1907 — melodic, romantic, poignant and funny, according to Mary Duncan, who directs the Young Artists Program. She won’t give away the plot, but it involves four characters, including a poet and a young girl, whose lives intersect at the cafe.

“There’s a lot of inner dialogue, and some undertones of Freud and Schnitzler,” she said, but the work should be enjoyable even for those who have never attended an opera. 

Thomas, a composer and pianist, has had works performed by major orchestras in the United States and abroad. He is arguably the world’s most prolific opera composer; he’s written more than 85 with students in New York City schools.

His work with children was featured on CBS’ “The Early Show” and singled out for praise by President Clinton when Young Audiences/New York was awarded the National Medal of Arts. Thomas’ “Race for the Sky,” commissioned as a commemoration of 9/11, has been performed by the Westchester Philharmonic Orchestra and in recitals nationwide. 

“Cafe Vienna” was chosen for performance at the Music Theater Conference of the Eugene O’Neill Theatre Center and produced by companies in Canada and the United States. Thomas is probably best known for his song cycle “In Thinking of America: Songs of the Civil War.” 

Participants in the Young Artists Program, which is intended to bring opera to audiences throughout Maine, are selected by national audition from those just beginning their professional careers. 

The singers in this year’s production will be Claire Coolen, soprano; Stephanie Sadownik, mezzo-soprano; Jesse Wakeman, tenor; Robert E. Mellon, baritone; and Jazmin DeRice, mezzo-soprano. Productions are semi-staged, with piano accompaniment by Steven Morris, music director of the Young Artists Program.

“Cafe Vienna” will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Portland Public Library; 2 p.m. June 26 at the University of Maine at Augusta, Jewett Hall; 7:30 p.m. June 28 at the Leura Hill Eastman Performing Arts Center, Fryeburg Academy; 7:30 p.m. July 10 at The Temple at Old Orchard Beach; and 7:30 p.m. July 15 at the University of Maine at Farmington, Merrill Hall, Nordica Auditorium.

Christopher Hyde is a writer and musician who lives in Pownal. He can be reached at:

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