The term “struggling artist” is so often used in daily life that it has become a cliche. But occasionally we get a glimpse of what it really means to be an artist.

The season opener at Portland Stage provides such a peek, and it makes for both a thought-provoking and moving evening at the theater.

“The Morini Strad,” a new play, is based on the true story of an aging violinist who formed a bond — at times an uneasy one — with a luthier she hired to repair her instrument.

The instrument in question was the Davidoff Stradivarius, a violin worth millions that had accompanied Erica Morini throughout her long career on the top concert stages of the world.

In failing health, the aging Morini accidently damages her precious instrument while trying to show a young student how to play.

She calls Brian Skarstad, who needs the work but would rather be making his own instruments than repairing others’ work.

But handling a famous Strad is hard to resist, and, despite being verbally pushed around and berated by Morini as she seeks to make sure she receives the respect she feels she deserves, he takes on the job.

What ensues is a marvelous confrontation/conversation between the two characters on subjects that relate personal, professional and artistic themes as only good writing — by Willy Holtzman — and good acting — by Laura Esterman as Morini and John G. Preston as Skarstad — can.

Esterman was excellent at conveying both the comically sardonic wit of the experienced artist and the touching vulnerabilities of the still young-at-heart woman who never fully allowed herself a “normal” life.

Conveying both a physical frailty and an iron will, Esterman’s Morini was a strong presence throughout Friday’s opening performance of the 80-minute play. You get to know her character without losing the sense that really knowing a person, particularly an artist, is not an easy thing.

Preston’s Skarstad, by comparison, is still full of youthful indecision as he slowly begins to see Morini’s wisdom about what the artistic life can and should be.

Preston’s definitely the second banana here but he hit all the right emotional marks to fill out the role of a guy entering the “third movement” of his life.

Director Paul Meshejian and set designer Anita Stewart have provided all that these two fine actors need to make their characters come to life (with a little musical help from young Seoyeon Kim on violin).

This fine production is a refined but not esoteric pleasure that audiences won’t have to struggle to enjoy, though it might make some think about their own lives a little more critically.

Steve Feeney is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.