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Intense drama with well-known aria will open season, May 4-12 at Keller Auditorium; another show follows at Keller and two at Newmark Theatre

COURTESY: CORY WEAVER/PORTLAND OPERA - Portland Opera staged Verdi's 'Rigoletto' in 2009, and now will bring back the classic May 4-12 at Keller Auditorium to open its season. 'It's among Verdi's most beautiful operas, with the sheer tunefulness of it,' says Christopher Mattaliano, Portland Opera general director.It's been 10 years since Christopher Mattaliano directed Giuseppe Verdi's comedy-turned-tragedy "Rigoletto," but it's an opera that he and others enjoy revisiting.

"This is actually my eighth production over the course of the past 30 years," says Mattaliano, the Portland Opera general director who directs "Rigoletto," the company's season opener, May 4-12. "Like 'Carmen,' 'La Boheme' and 'Madama Butterfly,' it's a very popular standard that most opera companies bring back.

"It's among Verdi's most beautiful operas, with the sheer tunefulness of it. It has the one aria/song that everybody recognizes, a melody to it that has been played a thousand times in TV commercials and movie scores ('La Donna e Mobile'). If for no other reason, you come to hear that. And, it's one of Verdi's most dramatic operas; it moves quickly, it's a bit of a thriller. There's a white-hot intensity to it."

The story: The court jester Rigoletto is a clown in public, but in private he is a doting father who does all he can to shield his beloved daughter, Gilda, from the happenings at the court. When a fellow father defending his daughter's honor puts a curse on Rigoletto, comedy turns to tragedy.

The opera has attracted famed Verdi baritone Stephen Powell to play the title. "He's a big deal," Mattaliano says. "This is his signature role." Resident artist Katrina Galka returns to the Portland stage in the role of Gilda.

It'll be sung in Italian with projected English text.

There'll be four performances: 7:30 p.m. Friday, May 4, 2 p.m. Sunday, May 6, 7:30 p.m. May 10, and 7:30 p.m. May 12, at the Keller Auditorium, 222 S.W. Clay St. For tickets (starting at $35): www.portlandopera.org.

The opera season included a February performance of "Winterreise" and the Big Night Concert last month. But the official spring-summer season gets started with "Rigoletto," and then continues with "Faust," "La Cenerentola (Cinderella)" and "Orfeo ed Euridice."

The opera is going to be year-round, answering the suggestions of fans who wanted to see shows in the fall and winter months. The Hampton Opera Center, Keller Auditorium and Newmark Theatre are used for shows.

"We're unique, probably the only opera company with three venues," Mattaliano says.

"We're in our third year of this schedule adjustment, and the clear message we've gotten from our patrons is that they miss the opera in the fall and winter. On one hand, people enjoying dining outside and having a drink and dressing more casually going to opera in the summer; on the other hand, we felt we needed fans to know that we're listening to them."

Next season starts with a "November Classic" with Verdi's "La Traviata."

The opera's programming also includes Portland Opera To Go, which puts on abbreviated shows in schools, and Opera a la Cart, which does productions from out of a cart.

This season's first two operas are at Keller Auditorium, the next two at Newmark Theatre, 1111 S.W. Broadway. After "Rigoletto," the lineup is:

"Faust," June 8-16, Keller Auditorium

An opera by 19th century composer Charles Gounod, it's a new co-production with Lyric Opera of Chicago. Mattaliano asked John Frame, whose work he had seen at the Portland Art Museum in 2012, to design the production, which includes deeply evocative sets and costumes, sculpture, 3-D projections and a live video feed.

"'Faust' is the quintessential 'deal with the devil' story," Mattaliano says.

Tenor Jonathan Boyd ("The Rake's Progress") returns in the title role.

"La Cenerentola (Cinderella)," July 13-28, Newmark Theatre

It's the classic Cinderella story, by Gioachino Rossini. Mattaliano reimagines the fairy tale opera for the intimate Newmark stage.

Mezzo-soprano and resident artist Kate Farrar will play the title role.

"It's a very charming and delightful and funny and touching opera. It's one of my loves. I've directed it many times," Mattaliano says.

"Orfeo ed Euridice," July 27-Aug. 4, Newmark Theatre

"It's one of the most beautiful operas every composed," Mattaliano says. "It's by Christoph Gluck, a Handel and Mozart contemporary."

In the Greek tale, Orfeo would rather risk death than live without wife Euridice, so he must charm Hades, ghosts of the dead and a three-headed dog to reach his beloved. With thousands of rose petals, a full chorus and a ballet, it'll be directed by Chas Rader-Shieber and designed by Jacob Climer (both from 2013 opera "Rinaldo").

Mezzo-soprano Sandra Piques Eddy ("Carmen") plays Orfeo and soprano Lindsay Ohse, a former resident artist, plays Euridice.

For more info: www.portlandopera.org.

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