‘Carmen,’ ‘Cyrano’ frame DiChiera’s last season at MOT

Michigan Opera Theatre’s new season celebrates legacy of artistic director David DiChiera before his 2017 retirement

Michael H. Hodges, Detroit News Fine Arts writer
Michigan Opera Theatre artistic director David DiChiera inside the Detroit Opera House in Detroit. DiChiera, who founded MOT in 1971 and has served as its director ever since, will retire in the summer of 2017.

Michigan Opera Theatre’s new season, which will be the last before Artistic Director David DiChiera retires, will kick off Saturday night with “Carmen.”

The opera will play Saturday-Oct. 23.

“We do ‘Carmen’ every five years or so,” DiChiera says. “It has very strong audience appeal. Plus,” I had the opportunity to cast (mezzo-soprano) Ginger Costa-Jackson, who’s such an exciting performer.”

Other MOT productions this season include “Silent Night,” “Little Women,” “Girl of the Golden West” and “Cyrano.”

Detroit’s opera company has titled the entire year, “Celebrate the DiChiera Legacy,” which leaves the honoree both appreciative and a little amused.

“Well, that’s what they’ve got on brochures and things,” DiChiera says. “It’s sort of like, ‘We’re getting rid of him — let’s say nice things!’”

Right away he laughs and adds, “No, no — it’s fine and lovely. It’s been a long journey.”

It was in 1971 that DiChiera, then a professor at Oakland University, launched MOT in Detroit’s Music Hall. Twenty-five years later in 1996, after a lengthy, gut renovation, the company moved into its new permanent home in the Detroit Opera House on Grand Circus Park.

DiChiera admits he’s never seen Costa-Jackson perform “Carmen,” Georges Bizet’s tale of doomed love, but says he knew she’s had great success in the role, most recently last month at Mexico City’s magnificent Palacio de Bellas Artes.

“When I met Ginger years ago,” he says, “I was just so taken with her personality off-stage. Casting her seemed a perfectly natural thing to do.”

The next production will be American composer Kevin Puts’ “Silent Night,” which won the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 2012.

“It’s about the first Christmas Eve during World War I, when German and Allied troops came together and celebrated,” DiChiera says. “It’s beautifully put together.”

“Silent Night” will run Nov 12-20.

Fans of Louisa May Alcott — and little girls all over the metro area — will applaud the selection of “Little Women” by Mark Adamo, which premiered in Houston in 1998.

“Little Women,” the tale of a Massachusetts mother and her three daughters coping during the Civil War while their father is away at the front, will run March 11-12 at the Macomb Center for the Performing Arts in Clinton Township.

“Adamo is a very talented American composer,” DiChiera says, “and it’s a very accessible opera with some really wondeful arias.”

The next production, the 1910 “Girl of the Golden West,” is Italian composer Giacomo Puccini’s exotic foray into the mythic American West, and will play April 1-9.

“The protagonist is Minnie, who’s kind of a barmaid,” DiChiera explains. “I think people will find it fascinating,” he adds.

And if “Carmen” dishes out tragic love, Puccini gives us the cheerful opposite.

“Minnie falls in love with a bandit — a bad boy,” DiChiera says, “but she converts him into a good person, and they ride off into the sunset.”

Given that DiChiera himself will ride off into the sunset late next spring, at least as far as MOT is concerned, it’s only fitting that the last production of the season will be his own “Cyrano.” which premiered at the Detroit Opera House in 2007. The opera will run May 13-21.

With a full-time gig running an opera company, it was understandably hard for DiChiera to find the time to finish the opera. “I worked on writing ‘Cyrano’ for quite a long time,” he admits.

“Finally I went to Scotland to a castle that friends of mine own, and that was kind of wonderful. When I listen to the opera now, I remember exactly where I wrote each scene.”

DiChiera notes that he’s always loved the original play by Edmond Rostand.

“It’s such a beautiful story. That’s what drove me to make an opera out of it. I’m very much in love with love stories,” he says, “even though ‘Cyrano,’ of course, has a very bitter sadness at the end of it.”


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Mezzo-soprano Ginger Costa-Jackson, shown here in a production with the Vancouver Opera, will star in the Michigan Opera Theatre’s “Carmen.”

Michigan Opera Theatre 2016-17

‘Celebrate the DiChiera Legacy’

“Carmen”: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Wednesday and Oct. 22; 2:30 p.m Oct. 23, Detroit Opera House

“Silent Night”: 7:30 p.m. Nov. 12, 16 and 19; 2:30 p.m. Nov. 20, Detroit Opera House

“Little Women”: 7:30 p.m March 11; 2:30 p.m. March 12, Macomb Center for the Performing Arts

“Girl of the Golden West”: 7:30 p.m. April 1, 5 and 8; 2:30 p.m. April 9, Detroit Opera House

“Cyrano”: 7:30 p.m: May 13, 17 and 20; 2:30 p.m. May 21, Detroit Opera House