Michigan Opera Theatre

The Artistic Vision of Michigan Opera Theatre’s Stephen Lord

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By Erica Hobbs

Ask Michigan Opera Theatre Principal Conductor Stephen Lord about his artistic style, and he'll answer with one word: "truth." MOT's new artistic leader, appointed in November, officially directs the company's artistic endeavors this season after the retirement of founder and longtime artistic director David DiChiera. To Lord, who got his professional start with MOT in 1975, truth pertains to both the production and the values of the organization itself.

"I believe we can be true to the pieces we present within various musical and production styles, and we need to stay true to the legacy that MOT's legendary founder David DiChiera established," he said. "We must also be honest and forthright with our artists and, as a company, give them back in equal proportion to what they are giving the audience."

Lord's truth may be most apparent during the season's fall operas, "Rigoletto" and "The Marriage of Figaro," both of which he will conduct and to which he feels a personal connection. MOT's "Rigoletto" is an updated production by Jonathan Miller, which sets the classic story in the world of the Mafia in 1950s Little Italy, New York. The production was Lord's first in London and an experience he described as life-changing. While the work may seem a far cry from the traditional setting of a 1500s dukedom in Italy, Lord said it offers audiences a fresh perspective while still hitting the truth of the opera.

"It gets to the heart of the story and Verdi's intentions," he said. "It is a true testament to the timelessness of the work."

"The Marriage of Figaro," while presented in its traditional setting, is a production Lord first conducted himself when it made its premiere in 1990. It has since been performed in more than 40 theaters worldwide and will give audiences a chance to experience Lord's musical style directly.

"I am proud to bring this production to Detroit and share a deeply personal work that I helped to shape," he said.

In addition to continuing to conduct operas, Lord's role as Principal Conductor will lead MOT's artistic direction for the next two seasons. While he has ambitious plans for the company, he recognizes changes must be realized incrementally. Lord's immediate focus, along with MOT CEO Wayne Brown, includes establishing a long-term plan that continues to attract the best talent and sets up his long-term vision for the company. His immediate plans also include increasing rehearsal time for the orchestra and maintaining a balanced repertoire that features well-known classics as well as important newer works and productions.

Lord joins MOT after a long career as Music Director for Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, where he continues to serve in an emeritus position. He was formerly the music director of Boston Lyric Opera and has been a frequent guest conductor at the Canadian Opera Company, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Santa Fe Opera, San Francisco Opera and the English National Opera.

Despite his lofty ambitions for MOT, Lord's truth for the company is one that maintains its values of artistic excellence and community engagement that serves the city in which it resides and the one that began his career.

"It is special to me to return to the company where I got my start and come full circle," he said. "As I enter into a new phase of my life and career, I look forward to embracing these exciting times and the new roads ahead!" 

For more information visit MichiganOpera.org.

This story is provided and presented by our sponsor Michigan Opera Theatre.