At the Opera Maine Gala at Ocean Gateway on April 25, Egyptian influences were everywhere – the décor, the menu, the auction items, the floral arrangements and even guests’ fashion choices.

Opera Maine co-founder Jack Riddle had a pharaoh print on his tie, Mary Doughty wore a loose-fitting galabeya she bought in Egypt, and trustee Elizabeth Astor’s wide gold-colored beaded necklace evoked the ancient Egyptian style.

These local opera lovers are anticipating the Opera Maine production of Giuseppe Verdi’s “Aida,” a larger-than-life romance set in ancient Egypt, on July 25 and 28.

“We have an epic season coming up with ‘Aida’ – our biggest production yet,” said Executive Director Caroline Musica Koelker.

The gala – featuring selections by soprano Jamila Drecker-Waxman (from “Rocking Horse Winner” in 2023) and tenor Joe Sacchi (from “The Fall of the House of Usher” in 2022) – raised $55,000 to support Opera Maine’s big summer season.

“‘Aida’ requires a large orchestra – twice the size of what we had last year – and is famous for its Triumphal March,” said Board President Arlene Schwind of Portland. “It’s the most ambitious opera we’ve produced.”


“It’s a spectacle,” said trustee Ann Elderkin of Cape Elizabeth. “And this is the strongest ticket sales this far ahead of the production that we’ve ever had.”

Bella St. Cyr, a recent graduate from the University of Southern Maine’s classical voice performance program, is one of 50 members of the “Aida” chorus. “Opera Maine does a wonderful job of including local talent while bringing national performers to Maine,” she said.

Among the chorus, the 65-person orchestra and at least 40 people in the Triumphal March for which “Aida” is known, more than 150 Mainers are involved in the production alongside the principal performing artists.

While “Aida” is sung in Italian, English translations will be projected above the stage – one of the ways that Opera Maine makes the classical art form more accessible. It also offers free tickets for anyone 25 or younger. (To reserve one of those tickets – or express interest in being in the Triumphal March – email

A third way that Opera Maine brings opera to new audiences is producing new contemporary works in English through the Studio Artist Program. Next month, it’s presenting “Rappahannock County,” a Civil War production inspired by actual events and based on diaries, letters and other accounts. Maine’s production at Portland Stage on June 28 and 30 will premiere a special score composed for two pianos, and composer Ricky Ian Gordon will be part of the post-performance conversations.

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

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