There are several reasons to describe Opera Maine’s 2021 summer season as refreshing, starting with the annual gala at Falmouth Country Club, held in a glamorous tent with six chandeliers, but nonetheless in open air – and with hardly a mask in sight.

“This is the first public thing I’ve been at with masks off,” said Dan Crewe of Cumberland.

Opera Maine’s most devoted fans are used to socializing together and had clearly missed doing so.

“The energy in this tent is astonishing, and it’s enthralling to be part of it,” said Artistic Director Dona D. Vaughn. “All of you have been so kind to support your opera company through this year of darkness. That we’re able to present a 26th season of opera to our community this year is something of a miracle.”

The highlight of the three-course dinner gala on June 12 was, of course, live opera. Studio Artists Program alums tenor Lucas Levy and mezzo-soprano Zaray Rodriguez brought the audience to their feet performing solo and duet selections from a variety of operas, including “Carmen,” “Samson et Dalila” and “West Side Story.”

“This is incredible because I haven’t heard a lot of live opera,” said Maddie Darigen, a rising senior at Thornton Academy and a new Opera Maine Teens intern. “I became interested in opera and classical singing during the pandemic.”

A new crop of Studio Artists will be part of Opera Maine’s return to Merrill Auditorium July 28 and 30 with Gaetano Donizetti’s “The Elixir of Love.” The hope is that a 90-minute distillation of the 1844 opera – with no intermission because of COVID-19 safety considerations – may be just the cure for what ails Maine Opera fans after all these months with no full-scale productions.

Executive Director Caroline Koelker announced that Opera Maine trustees and advisory trustees are sponsoring an Opera for All program this year that gives free tickets for anyone age 25 and under to attend “The Elixir of Love.”

The summer season also includes “As One,” a coming-of-age story of a transgender protagonist. It’s a contemporary opera sung in English, accompanied by a string quartet from Palaver Strings, July 16 and 18 at Westbrook Performing Arts Center.

“It’s an edgy move in some ways,” Vaughn said. “But we work hard to move our audience into contemporary opera and contemporary issues.”

Members of the LGBTQ+ community will lead a talk-back session after each performance of “As One.”

For an art form that was once considered the musical language of the elite, the opera’s emphasis on inclusivity is refreshing indeed.

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

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