In New Direction, Michigan Opera Theatre Becomes Detroit Opera

After more than 50 years, Michigan Opera Theatre is changing its name to Detroit Opera, a move that follows a transformative vision unveiled in spring 2020 to create a new and ambitious standard for American opera that emphasizes community, accessibility, artistic risk-taking, and collaboration.
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The Michigan Opera Theatre is changing its name to Detroit Opera after 50 years under the previous moniker. // Courtesy of Detroit Opera
The Michigan Opera Theatre is changing its name to Detroit Opera after 50 years under the previous moniker. // Courtesy of Detroit Opera

After more than 50 years, Michigan Opera Theatre is changing its name to Detroit Opera, a move that follows a transformative vision unveiled in spring 2020 to create a new and ambitious standard for American opera that emphasizes community, accessibility, artistic risk-taking, and collaboration.

As part of the new direction, for the first Detroit Opera will present the premier of “La bohème” on April 2 in reverse order in a co-production with Boston Lyric Opera and Spoleto Festival USA. The opera runs for 110 minutes with no intermission from April 2-10.

“As we enter our second half-century, and with all the unique new productions emerging, our Board and Trustees decided that it was time for a change,” says Wayne S. Brown, president and CEO of Detroit Opera. “We are a Detroit-based company operating in Detroit, a city with a growing national and international recognition as an arts-focused city. We want to take advantage of that recognition and add to it.”

At first glance, Detroit Opera may seem like a small change, but it will have a lasting impact, says Ethan Davidson, board chairman.

“Over just the next year we’re partnering with seven other opera companies, including the Metropolitan Opera,” says Davidson. “Featuring Detroit Opera in the promotion of all those productions will help us launch our new name on a national stage, and with the incredibly innovative approach our new artistic director Yuval Sharon is taking in these productions we’ll send a message that creativity and new ideas are blossoming in Detroit.”

The company began its life as “Overture to Opera,” a branch of the Detroit Grand Opera Association that presented excerpted operas for the DGOA’s educational outreach program.

Under opera company founder David DiChiera’s leadership, the organization progressively matured into a bona fide opera company, establishing its own board of trustees in 1971. By 1972, Overture to Opera was officially accepted as a member of OPERA America, and by 1973, the newly renamed Michigan Opera Theatre began operation as an independent organization separate from the DGOA.

While the new name highlights the city and signifies the company’s changing ambitions, the deliberate centering of Detroit in the company’s name is in direct keeping with the vision of the late DiChiera, whose name remains at the heart of the company in The David DiChiera Center for the Performing Arts.

“Detroit Opera is already who we are,” says Sharon. “This company is of Detroit, and its home since 1996 is the Detroit Opera House. David DiChiera took a chance on Detroit in challenging times for the city, and we want to make it clear we intend to stay rooted right here. The fact that we are celebrating ‘The Next 50’ of the organization, renovating the hall to make it more accessible for the audience, and signaling a change in artistic direction — all of this says now is the time to adapt and align ourselves even more with our community.”

The opera house is nearing completion of new elevators on the south side of the building that will extend to the roof, and is preparing for several upcoming performances, including Ballet Hispánico’s Detroit premiere of “Doña Perón: The Rise and Fall of a Diva,” a full-length ballet celebrating one of the most spellbinding women of South American history (March 19-20), and “X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X” (May 14-22).

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