In Portland, people still dress for the opera. At Opera Maine’s annual gala, “A Night at the Opera,” tuxes, glittering jewels and stunning dresses were de rigueur, bringing to mind words like debonair, enchanting and refined, all in the name of what is considered to be one of the highest art forms.

“This is our largest fundraiser,” said Elizabeth Astor, board member of Opera Maine and event chair. “During our dinner in the Eastland Grand Ballroom, we have soprano Abigail Shapiro, mezzo-soprano Eliza Bonet, bass Hidenori Inoue and Scott Wheatley accompanying them. They’re wonderful. And people come back year after year because it’s such a fun event.”

Guests chatted and raised glasses during the cocktail hour preceding the dinner and performance, held on June 8 at Westin Portland Harborview Hotel. Professional basketball player Nik Caner-Medley and his wife, Shoni, of Portland and Monaco visited with Opera Maine board member Andrew Kalloch and his wife, Jessica; Jon Ayers, chief executive officer of Idexx, and his wife, Helaine, chatted with Ken Lane of Cape Elizabeth; while Jackie Robinov of Portland enjoyed the company of longtime Opera Maine supporters Kenny and Mary Nelson.

The fundraiser, which was held in support of this year’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s “La Traviata,” also celebrated the organization’s new name.

“We have so much recognition in the opera world with our name, but not a lot of recognition here in Maine,” said Opera Maine artistic director Dona D. Vaughn. “We thought, ‘Let’s be more inclusive, let’s call ourselves Opera Maine,’ so when we go out into the community, we are Opera Maine. We are based in Portland, but we are here for Maine.”

“Opera Maine is a much more fitting name for our opera company,” explained Ann Elderkin, board president. “People are so proud of it, and it continues to thrive and grow in a community with many competing funding priorities. But people value the arts community and Opera Maine is a very important part of this community.”

“I love it here,” said Portland Symphony Orchestra’s assistant conductor Andrew Crust. “There is a great family of people supporting the arts here. It’s a great city.”

“It makes me very happy,” said Jack Riddle, who co-founded the opera company back in 1995 with Bruce Hangen, who was then Portland Symphony’s music director, and Russ Burleigh, who also attended the gala. “This thing has caught on. Some day we want it to be bigger and do more, but look what we can do now. It’s exciting!”

“People become known for the work they produce,” said Vaughn, beaming. “Opera is not dying, it’s thriving … in a way that’s affording so many new people the opportunity to enjoy it. We just want people to love opera!”

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

[email protected]

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