Friday, March 21, 2014

Three little maids from Maine: Opera stars come home for ‘Three Divas’ concert

Published in Out In Maine

When you’re a diva, you don’t have to meet the people you’ll be singing with before the day of the show. And you only need one group rehearsal — even if it’s for a big event like the 20th year of an opera company. Or so it might seem.

“It used to be a good thing” to be called a diva, laughs Suzanne Nance, who is one of three female opera singers slated to perform a show called “Maine’s Divas Come Home” at the University of Southern Maine’s Hannaford Hall on April 1 as part of PORTopera’s 20th anniversary celebration.

Nance, a soprano who is also a former Maine Public Broadcasting Network radio host now working at Chicago’s WFMT, will sing with another soprano, Ashley Emerson, and a mezzo-soprano, Kate Aldrich, a member of PORTopera’s advisory board and the first Maine native to fill a principal role in one of the company’s major productions — the title role in Carmen.

None of the three have ever sung together before, and Nance will be meeting Aldrich in person for the first time; she has met Emerson in the past. “We’re going to rehearse the day of” the show, with pianist Martin Perry, who himself is a well known musician in Maine and around the world. “We’ll basically run the whole show, while saving our voices,” Nance says. “We’ll just meet, put it together, and make a show of it.”

That show will be varied in terms of song choice and format.

“The open and close we’re going to go a la the Three Tenors,” Nance says, plus “three or four of the most beautiful duets in all of opera,” and several arias, from pivotal moments in significant shows that nevertheless “can come out and stand on their own.”

The songs are diverse, including works by classical masters Mozart and Verdi alongside modern standouts like Englebert Humperdinck.

Noting that the evening’s program will begin with an ensemble performance of “The Three Little Maids From School,” from Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado, Ann Elderkind, PORTopera’s board president, says it’s appropriate the singers themselves “started as three little maids from Maine.”

Aldrich, originally from Damariscotta, “is so big in Europe,” Nance says. Based in Rome and New York City, Aldrich first sang the role of Carmen at PORTopera and has gone on to sing it across Europe, Elderkind adds.

Emerson, who grew up in Bangor, is a recent graduate of USM’s music program, focusing on voice performance. She was involved in PORTopera’s Emerging Artists program, and made her mainstage debut in the company’s 2003 production of Lucia di Lammermoor. Right out of college, she was accepted to a residency at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, where her career is “just taking off,” Nance says.

The singers are so busy, in fact, that it took about a year to coordinate everyone’s schedule, says Elderkind. And they had to pick the program in a Skype session, Nance says. When planning it, “we were all sort of giddy” about coming back to Maine, singing together, and seeing friends and family during the trip. “It’s great for us to come back and celebrate a place we love,” Nance says.

The event will also be celebrating the strength of the opera company, which has weathered a worldwide economic slump that forced bigger cities’ operas to close (including the New York Opera and the Baltimore Opera). Elderkind credits “the community of Maine coming forward” to support the company, especially in difficult times.

“Maine’s Divas Come Home” | Tuesday, April 1 @ 7:30 pm | Hannaford Hall, USM Abromson Center, Bedford St, Portland | $65 | |