Wave of support for MOT’s DiChiera after cancer news

Michael H. Hodges
Detroit News Fine Arts Writer

Cultural leaders reacted with stunned dismay to Thursday’s announcement that Michigan Opera Theatre founder and Artistic Director David DiChiera has pancreatic cancer.

People were quick to praise the impresario’s remarkable legacy and reluctant to contemplate a future in which DiChiera wouldn’t still be a towering presence.

At the U-M School of Music, Theatre and Dance, Dean Aaron Dworkin called DiChiera’s contributions to Detroit and the region unrivaled.

“David is a cherished mentor and icon,” Dworkin wrote in an email, “and our community, as well as the broader national music field, are so fortunate to have him — and to continue to benefit from his artistic vision.”

DiChiera had already announced his retirement as MOT general director effective in June, shortly after his opera “Cyrano” closes at the Detroit Opera House.

(“Cyrano” will be staged May 13, 17, 20 and 21, while a dazzling array of performers will honor the man himself at the long-planned “DiChiera Grand Salute” on May 19.)

Jennifer Goulet, president of Creative Many Michigan, noted that DiChiera shared news of his diagnosis — which he sent out in a widely circulated email Thursday — with the same “grace and quiet confidence” that he brings to all his endeavors.

“The timing is bittersweet,” she added, “as we join David in celebrating his amazing creative vision and retirement from MOT.”

Noting that life is often unpredictable, DiChiera assured his board and staff in his note that “I fully intend to be at the May celebration. I don’t want that Gala to be turned into a memorial.”

Those who know him well have faith.

“David’s bravery in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds is written into the annals of Detroit arts history,” said Nancy Malitz, who was The Detroit News’ classical music critic in the 1980s.

“Time and again he has done for the city things that would bust the buttons of cities twice its size.”

Anne Parsons, president and CEO of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, has known DiChiera well over 20 years, since she was managing the Hollywood Bowl and he was general director at southern California’s Opera Pacific, which he founded.

“This is another moment for all of us to publicly acknowledge and celebrate David’s legacy,” Parsons said, reached in Portland, Oregon. “More and more voices should be heard, and David will be particularly comforted by the knowledge that he has left a real legacy — and that means MOT is here to stay.”

Even a quarter century ago, long before Detroit’s resurgence, Parsons recalls DiChiera talking nonstop about the promise he saw in the Motor City.

“At the time he was going back and forth between Detroit and Orange County,” she said, “but he spoke so glowingly of Detroit. I remember him telling me, ‘I think I’m just going to focus on that.’ ”

DiChiera founded MOT in 1971 and reopened downtown’s Music Hall downtown, closed for years, as its first home. The company moved into the sumptuously renovated Detroit Opera House in 1996.

“If you think about it,” said Vince Paul, Music Hall’s current president and artistic director, “at the time, Music Hall was the only theater downtown. The Fisher was doing Broadway, but there was no Fox, no Opera House, and no State Theatre. Everything was shuttered except for David and Music Hall.”

Indeed, Paul added, today’s thriving cultural scene has its roots in what DiChiera planted and helped nurture during the difficult years of downtown’s abandonment.

“Our cultural scene today can be tied directly to David,” he said. “You can trace it right back.”

mhodges@detroitnews.com

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Twitter: @mhodgesartguy