On a wet and dreary Friday evening, a celebration was underway. A fete both refined and convivial, it sought to transport guests in all their finery from the driving rain outside into the world of PORTopera, Portland’s professional opera company.

Candice Lee, co-chair of PORTopera’s 20th anniversary celebration and opera patron, said the group’s annual fundraiser “is always a fun event, with pillars of the community and friends of the opera here.” She gestured toward party-goers tucked in a corner outside the ballroom at the Westin Portland Harborview Hotel.

Amid crisp tuxedos and understated glamour, she was searching for Dona D. Vaughn, the opera company’s artistic director.

“She is affiliated with the Met Opera. She directs operas all over the country,” Lee said. “We’ve been so lucky to have her for 20 years!”

That sentiment was shared by many, including Phillip Johnston of East Boothbay and Bronxville, New York, and his wife Jane. “We’re groupies of Dona’s, whether here or in New York,” he said, smiling.

Johnston was joined by Vaughn and Elizabeth Astor, PORTopera board member and event co-chair.

“We are a classy company. We get wonderful singers, most of them Met singers. I tell them we pay a nickel and a lobster,” said Vaughn with a laugh. Vaughn, who lives in New York, visits Portland often, usually on behalf of her work with PORTopera.

“We are just thrilled to get this caliber of artistry,” Vaughn explained. “I would say we’re better known nationally than we are locally. We are reviewed every summer by the Opera News. It’s wonderful coverage for the singers who come here.”

Guests clearly enjoyed the gala, which included a sit down dinner, arias performed by Joshua Miller and Mary Sullivan, dancing to the Bob Charest Band and a luxurious auction, all to raise money for PORTopera’s 2014 production of Verdi’s “Rigoletto” July 23 and 25 at Merrill Auditorium in Portland.

Pam Plumb of Portland chatted with Kenny Nelson of Falmouth. Brenda Garrand, CEO and founder of Garrand, took in the festivities with Tracy Ann Davis, principal of Urban Dwellings. John Hatcher, an avid local supporter of the arts, also joined in.

Jack Riddle, who co-founded PORTopera in 1994 with former Portland Symphony Orchestra conductor Bruce Hangen and Russ Burleigh, attended with his wife Bonnie, and was also joined by Tom Johnson, direc-

tor of the Victoria Mansion, and Sarah Newick of York.

“We helped Portland evolve into opera,” said Riddle, who is still on the board. “But really, the town is a place where something like this readily takes seed. Our long-term vision … we hope to do more than one production a year. Our dream is to succeed.”

For more information, please visit www.portopera.org.

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

[email protected]