The Way It Was

In 1971, David DiChiera was a lone wolf in the wilderness


Photograph Courtesy Detroit Historical Society


1975 Today, downtown Detroit is a locus of rejuvenation and possibility. But decades ago it was a different story; businesses and organizations in droves were abandoning the city. David DiChiera, founder of the fledgling Michigan Opera Theatre (MOT), was a lone wolf in the wilderness. In 1971, he decided to base his Michigan Opera Theatre in downtown’s Music Hall for the Performing Arts on Madison Avenue. Many dismissed DiChiera as somewhat of a loon, but today his internationally renowned company is as strong as Atlas. Here, DiChiera is seen with soprano Leona Mitchell before her appearance in Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess. The then-little-known young singer would go on to international stardom. The Wilson Theatre was built by Matilda Dodge Wilson in honor of her second husband, John Wilson. It was later known as the Cinerama Theatre and Music Hall, the latter appellation because the Detroit Symphony Orchestra performed there from 1946 until the mid-’50s. It eventually became known as the Music Hall Center for the Performing Arts. But as MOT grew, so did its need for a larger venue. It performed in Detroit’s Fisher Theatre and Masonic Auditorium, but the nomadic company had no permanent home. That changed in 1996, when MOT moved into the renovated Grand Circus Theatre (formerly the Broadway-Capitol), redubbed the Detroit Opera House. Now, DiChiera, 80, is ready for a well-deserved rest. The search is on for a new artistic director; DiChiera will retire at the end of the 2016-17 season, but he’ll remain as artistic director emeritus. MOT concludes its 45th season with performances of Mozart’s The Magic Flute from May 14-22. 

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