Michigan Opera Theatre

Opera Star Kathleen Battle to Return to Michigan Opera Theatre Nov. 5

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By Erica Hobbs
Kathleen Battle

This Nov. 5, an extraordinary experience awaits metro Detroit audiences: a recital with world-renowned opera singer, Kathleen Battle. If the name doesn’t instantly resonate, it should. The soprano has performed in leading opera houses throughout the world with celebrated musicians including Luciano Pavarotti, Plácido Domingo and Wynton Marsalis, as well as many others. Among her numerous accolades, she holds five Grammy Awards, an Emmy Award and was the first American to receive the Laurence Olivier Award, the British equivalent of a Tony Award.

What metro Detroit audiences may not know is that she got her start in the Motor City with Michigan Opera Theatre. Battle was in her mid-20s when cast as Rosina in MOT’s 1976 production of “The Barber of Seville.” At the time, she was a recent graduate of the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, where she had studied under the tutelage of Italo Tajo, a renowned operatic bass-turned-instructor who also happened to be a close friend of MOT Founder David DiChiera.

“He called and said, ‘You know, David, we have a young soprano here who I think is very talented, and I think you should hear her,’” DiChiera said. “’I think she may be somebody you may want to help promote in her career.’”

DiChiera heard her sing and knew then that she was the real deal.

“It was one of the most beautiful, pure-sounding soprano voices I had ever heard,” he said. “It was clear and so well-focused. Everything was ideal about her as a performer.”

Kathleen Battle as Rosina in the 1976 MOT production of Mozart’s The Barber of Seville.

With that, DiChiera offered her the role of Rosina for the following year, where she would go on to make her professional opera debut.

That production led to a performance with New York City Opera and another role with MOT the following season. This time, Battle portrayed Pamina in “The Magic Flute,” a role DiChiera described as being even more perfect for her.

“It’s very pure, lyric singing,” he said. “There weren’t any sopranos that sang like that.”

From there, Battle was introduced to James Levine, the music director of the Metropolitan Opera, and the rest is history.

Since then, Battle has had a long career performing with The Met and the most prestigious opera companies and orchestras from San Francisco to Vienna and Chicago to Berlin.

In addition to DiChiera, Battle also has a longstanding relationship with the rest of MOT’s leadership team: Principal Conductor Stephen Lord and CEO and President Wayne S. Brown.

Lord was beginning his career as a pianist and vocal coach with MOT at the same time Battle was beginning hers as a singer.

“It has been an incredible journey for us both, and I am happy to reunite with her at MOT after all these years,” he said. “Her talent is incredible, and we are excited to share it with our Metro Detroit audiences.”

Brown said he’s been following Battle’s career since he first heard her sing “Semele” at Carnegie Hall in 1985. Since then, Brown has heard her numerous times and has presented her in performance.

Kathleen Battle as Pamina and Ron Raines as Papageno in the 1977 MOT production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute.

“Kathleen Battle is one of the most remarkable artists of our time,” he said. “We are fortunate to be able to have her return to Detroit under the auspices of Michigan Opera Theatre.”

When she returns to Detroit this Sunday, Battle will offer a program entitled “Something to Sing About,” showcasing her wide range of vocal styles, accompanied by pianist Joel A. Martin. The works she’s slated to perform include classics from Handel, Schubert, Mendelssohn, Rachmaninoff and Liszt. It also includes lighter works from Gershwin and Rogers & Hammerstein, as well as a number of spirituals.

DiChiera said Battle’s performance is a rare treat that is not to be missed.

“I am very proud that she made her operatic debut at Michigan Opera Theatre and equally proud to see how quickly her career took off,” DiChiera said. “She became one of the most significant sopranos in the world of opera, and we are excited to have her back with us once again.”

Ticket prices range from $33 to $89. Tickets may be purchased online at www.MichiganOpera.org, by calling (313) 237-7464 or in person at the Detroit Opera House (1526 Broadway, Detroit). For more information visit michiganopera.org/opera/kathleen-battle/

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