Detroit mourns its opera founder

Detroit mourns its opera founder


norman lebrecht

September 19, 2018

David DiChiera, founder of Michigan Opera Theatre, has died of pancreatic cancer, the theatre has announced. He retired last year at 82 as the cancer took hold.

You can read the story of his life here.



  • Alejandro Berger says:

    Remember him fondly. May he Rest In Peace!

  • Dominic Stafford says:

    Very sad news, though not unexpected – he had battled bravely and with great dignity against the disease for many years.

    He built a dynamic company in Detroit and was highly regarded by everyone in our industry. Countless singers, conductors, directors and agents owe him an enormous debt of thanks. He would bend over backwards for the good of their careers.

    One example: Liping Zhang had just sung Cio-Cio-San at Covent Garden and was immediately requested to return to sing some (cancelled) Lucias. She was rehearsing Butterfly in Detroit at the time. David’s first words on hearing my request were, ‘How can I make this work for you?’. The Butterfly was double-cast. She returned to London to sing two (critically-acclaimed) performances of Lucia, then immediately returned to Detroit to finish rehearsals for Butterfly.

    It’s an over-used phrase: ‘they don’t make them like that, anymore’; but they don’t make them like that anymore.

    He will be missed.

  • Leonard Slatkin says:

    David was an incredible force of nature. He single handedly built the Opera Company, overseeing every aspect of the organization. His devotion to the company and the city was astounding. We will all miss his presence. R.I.P.

  • Byron B says:

    Unless you lived here you can’t begin to fully appreciate how apocalyptic Detroit was when the Michigan Opera Theater opened. White flight had devastated the city on an unimaginable scale. Downtown looked like a scene from “The Omega Man” and the neighborhoods, god the neighborhoods, looked like the landscape from “Stalker”. I once rode an Amtrak train through the city out of curiosity. We passed through huge tracts of land where the houses had been stripped to the frames and were dissolving into the overgrowth and a cabin cruiser lay on its side in the middle of a street filled with burned-out cars stretching to the horizon. As jaded as I already was about Detroit, I was still shocked and came away thinking the city was utterly forsaken.

    Then came DiChiera with his seemingly absurd optimism, energy and guts to imagine an opera company for the city. He raised 72 million dollars, bought a disintegrating movie palace, and did the impossible. He opened a first rate company, oversaw a magnificent restoration of its home, put on a lot of terrific shows and, most impressively, somehow got the city’s most unforgiving critics-suburban expats-to come back downtown. While there were established and very fine institutions such as the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and the Detroit Institute of Arts that had held their ground heroically in the city the significance of a new cultural institution opening and thriving was monumental. It fundamentally altered the conversation about Detroit. As if that wasn’t enough, he also had a hand in establishing WRCJ, a terrific classical and jazz radio station in a town that hadn’t had one for a decade.

    It may be the billionaires who are now buying up much of downtown who get most of the credit for revitalizing the city but DiChiera was one of the pioneers. On top of all that, he was reportedly also a helluva great guy. Rest in peace.