Bruce Hangen, who had been Music Director of the Portland Symphony for 10 years (1976-1985), had dreamed of forming an opera company in Maine. Even though he left Maine to become Music Director of the Omaha (NE) Symphony, he dreamed of returning for opera with a summer season. When Portland’s State Theater became available in 1994, there was at last a place where opera in full production could be performed. Hangen assembled a group of friends and supporters to form the Portland Opera Repertory Theatre (now PORTopera). He also persuaded Dona D. Vaughn to be the stage director for the company.
The company’s first performances took place in July, 1995 at the State Theater with Bizet’s “Carmen”. The production was an instant success both with critics and audiences. In 1996, the company produced Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly” at the State with an ever-greater acclaim. The 1996 season also introduced PORTopera’s Young Artists Program—an educational endeavor to help the careers of emerging young singers.
In 1997, PORTopera moved to the newly-renovated Merrill Auditorium in Portland with a full-scale production of Puccini’s “Tosca” that was sold out in two performances. The Young Artists Program was expanded to include six operatic recital programs in other parts of the state.
Susequently, the company produced single mainstage productions in each year in Merrill Auditorium (except 2009 during which a concert of opera selections was presented) and its Young Artists Program exposed opera in semi-staged productions in various locations to thousands of residents of Maine and New Hamphire.
In 2003, Bruce Hangen, who had served as Artistic Director and had conducted most productions, left the company to pursue his many interests in Boston and elsewhere. Dona D. Vaughn was named Artistic Director in his place. She had directed every mainstage production for the company and continues to fill the role of Stage Director. The PORTopera orchestra is now led by guest conductors including Stephen Lord, Giovanni Reggioli, Israel Gursky and Robert Moody.
PORTopera’s Mission Statement
“PORTopera is dedicated to producing creative, inspiring and professional opera performances of artistic excellence.”
PORTopera’s Future Plans
PORTopera plans to continue its growth with more mainstage productions at the Merrill in Portland in the summer and to expand its outreach productions in all parts of the region, all as part of its summer Opera Festival concept. The company’s mainstage productions will continue to be original, fully staged, with sets and costumes created or adapted by the company specifically for its own productions. The company will continue to provide opportunities for young artists and present singers with international reputations.
Board of Directors
Ann L. Elderkin
Donald L. Head
Thomas P. Aldrich
George E. Hissong