Two of Portland’s artistic gems – Victoria Mansion and PORTopera – just seem to go together.

In fact, the mansion might appear as though it’s decorated specifically for opera, as the wall and ceiling trompe l’oeil paintings are by Giuseppe Guidicini, who decorated the first purpose-built opera house in New York in 1833.

And that might be why Opera at the Mansion, a benefit for both institutions, is so popular.

“This event sells out every year,” said Bonnie Riddle, one of the cofounders of PORTopera. “The singers love the acoustics of this staircase and how theatrical the mansion is.”

This year, the event was held on July 11 and featured operatic arias performed by members of the cast of PORTopera’s upcoming production of “Carmen.”

“It’s a wonderful benefit for Victoria Mansion and an incredible opportunity to hear singers who were brought to town for our production of ‘Carmen,’ ” said Dona D. Vaughn, artistic director for PORTopera, noting that this will be the company’s third time staging the opera. “The two that we did before were very traditional, and this one is not,” she said, careful not to give too much away.

“It’s going to be a fabulous production with some surprises and a huge chorus: 42 adults and 24 children just in the chorus,” said Caroline Koelker, managing director of PORTopera. “The orchestra and chorus are mostly local people, with some coming from Boston.”

Opera at the Mansion, on the other hand, is a much more intimate setting, with four principal soloists singing their hearts out on the staircase to a packed house of 75 guests.

“Where in the world do people get the chance to get this close to great voices like this?” said Peter McCarthy. “A few times I’ve had great conversations with opera singers and have had a chance to interact with some of the principals.”

Valerie Cowart attended the event for the first time and vowed to return. “The singers were unsurpassed,” she said.

“You know, what was really fun for me was to watch the people who really love opera and to see the wonder on their faces,” said Mary Lobozzo of New Gloucester.

“I was close to tears the whole time,” said PORTopera cofounder Jack Riddle. “I can’t believe the singers that Portland gets. They are being discovered, and we have the privilege of giving them stage experience. The level of talent is just superb.”

PORTopera will present George Bizet’s “Carmen” on Wednesday and Friday at Merrill Auditorium, directed by the internationally renowned Stephen Lord. For more information, visit

Amy Paradysz is a freelance writer and photographer from Scarborough. She can be reached at:

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