Opera Maine, formerly known as Portland Opera Repertory Theater and later PORTopera, celebrated its 25th anniversary as Maine’s only professional opera company with a Magic of Opera dinner gala April 28 at Ocean Gateway at sunset.

Moving to a sunlit venue overlooking Casco Bay, everything about the anniversary gala pointed to Opera Maine’s upcoming performances of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” July 24 and 26, featuring baritone Robert Mellon as the bird catcher Papageno.

Mellon, who sang the national anthem at a Sea Dogs game in 2016, entertained gala guests with dramatic performances of pieces from “South Pacific,” “Macbeth” and “Le nozze di Figaro” accompanied by Noriko Yasuda. The surprise of the gala, though, was soprano Alexandra Deshorites, who was on the guest list and graciously agreed to perform with little notice when soprano Ashley Emerson came down with strep throat.

The chirps of birds played through the sound system, and bird of paradise floral arrangements decorated long tables where plates were passed family-style. Half the 165 gala guests were patrons, indicated by feathery accessories designed by volunteer Elizabeth Hope. Organization founders, including Jack Riddle of Portland, wore tuxedos and white-and-gold sashes.

“In the beginning, it was just three of us,” Riddle said, mentioning Bruce Hangen and Russ Burleigh. “But then good people kept coming and we were able to build an organization that does opera and does it well.”

“It was born in my living room,” said Bonnie Riddle. “I went to see if they needed more scotch, and they said they were going to start an opera company.”

“They succeeded with much blood, sweat and tears – to say nothing of money – to get this opera company started,” said Arlene Schwind, who opens her home to visiting performers each summer.

“It’s a miracle that it is a 25th anniversary,” said Artistic Director Dona D. Vaughn. “We refer to ourselves as the little opera company that could.”

Supporters say the company’s success is all about production quality that surpasses what would be anticipated of an opera company from Maine.

“If we get you in the theater,” Vaughn said, “we’ve got you.”

The gala live auction and “build the opera” appeal raised $34,500 for the production of “The Magic Flute,” and the fund-a-need appeal for the studio artist program and contemporary production raised $20,000.

Amy Paradysz is a freelance writer and photographer based in Scarborough. She can be reached at [email protected]