The frescoes and trompe l’oeil decor in Portland’s Victoria Mansion are certainly over the top. “A tad operatic,” commented curator Arlene Schwind.

And that’s just one of many reasons the mansion is a fitting place to welcome PORTopera’s guest singers each July in the weeks before their full operas.

“The sound effects are so good because it’s shaped like a shoebox,” said Vesta Vaughan Rand, a Yarmouth resident who is on the mansion’s education committee.

A sell-out crowd of 80 opera enthusiasts crowded into the foyer around the grand staircase, where arias rang from the rafters. Five artists from PORTopera’s “Rigoletto” and “Gianni Schicchi,” being presented this week, sang from the stairs, sampling favorites in both Italian and English.

Guests sipped cocktails, fanned themselves in the heat, and shouted “Bravo!” much as they might have in the mansion’s early years.

“This shows the success of this event and what a wonderful collaboration it is with PORT opera,” said Tom Johnson, director of Victoria Mansion.

“With opera companies going by the way,” said PORTopera artistic director Dona D. Vaughan, “it means a whole lot to us that you love opera.”

“It’s a juxtaposition of history and wonderful music with Metropolitan Opera-caliber singers,” said Cynthia Macdonald, a trustee of the mansion.

“A world-class building with world-class singers,” added her husband, Bob Macdonald, who is on the PORTopera board of directors. “We’re very proud.”

“I’m from the County, so to see opera of this quality in Portland is unbelievable,” said Vickie Labbe of Portland. “It’s everything. You get the singing, the dancing and the orchestra. Maine is becoming known for opera, even if it’s just a summer festival.”

“I tell people I’m coming to Portland, Maine, and there’s a nice opera program here,” said Christin-Marie Hill, a mezzo-soprano who has performed extensively in the U.S. and Germany.

She is staying with a board member’s family for July while rehearsing her role of Maddelena in “Rigoletto.” “It’s been the most wonderful thing because it’s the most inviting town,” Hill said.

“The singers come from the top programs in the country,” said Robert Mellon, a baritone who will perform the title role in “Gianni Schicchi” on Saturday at Space Gallery in Portland.

PORTopera, he said, is “getting some traction” in the opera world because of its revival of the Young Artist Program. In fact, PORTopera is regularly reviewed in a positive light by Opera News, published by the Metropolitan Opera Guild.

“We’re so lucky, aren’t we?” said Bonnie Riddle, one of the co-founders of PORTopera. “They’ve all worked at the Met and all over the world. We pay them a nickel and a lobster, but where would you want to be for the month of July?”

“We’re very much engaged in the artistic life of this community,” said Victoria Mansion trustee Ruth Story. “I think this is a great part of what makes Portland unique. People take pride in the city. It’s not just our historic buildings; it’s the whole environment of the city. There is diversity, and the city’s alive.”

“The mansion staff has taken the events out many ripples,” Rand said. “The doll tea here in May was sold out in five days.”

Newer events targeted at younger adults are bringing much larger crowds to Victoria Mansion. The Gaslight League, a new social club organized to benefit the Victoria Mansion, is gearing up for a Steampunk Masquerade on Halloween as well as a New Year’s Eve bash. Even smoking is coming back for some, with An Evening for Cigar Enthusiasts on Aug. 14.

Meanwhile, PORTopera has a busy week ahead, with “Rigoletto,” Giuseppe Verdi’s masterpiece, on Wednesday and Friday at Merrill Auditorium and the Young Artist Program production of “Gianni Schicchi” on Saturday at Space Gallery in Portland. For more information, check

Amy Paradysz is a freelance writer based in Scarborough. She can be reached at:

[email protected]

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.