Michigan Opera Theatre

Michigan Opera Theatre (MOT) is the principal opera company in Michigan, USA. The company is based in Detroit, where it performs in the Detroit Opera House. Each year it presents an opera and dance season. The company presents four operas in their original language with English supertitles and hosts dance companies with touring repertoire. It also presents musical theatre performances. The company has an orchestra, chorus, children's chorus, and extensive dance and arts education outreach programs. In 2005 MOT won a National Endowment for the Arts, Access to Artistic Excellence grant to support its staging of the world premiere of Margaret Garner.


Michigan Opera Theatre began as the educational outreach arm, Overture to Opera (OTO), of the Detroit Grand Opera Association, the organization responsible for the Metropolitan Opera's visits to Detroit. In 1963, MOT's Founder and General Director, David DiChiera took over the program, then in its third year. OTO first presented opera to the public as a collection of scenes and acts. It did not produce its first full-length production until 1970, with the staging of The Barber of Seville at the Detroit Institute of Arts. Overture to Opera officially became Michigan Opera Theatre in 1971 after it established a board of trustees, signifying its transformation into a professional opera company. 1977 marked the founding of MOT's Department of Community Programs by Karen VanderKloot DiChiera. The company became known for it casting which often featured a blend of established artists as well as young-up-and-coming American opera singers from a diversity of backgrounds, a tradition that continues to this day. The company was among the first to stage Gershwin's opera Porgy and Bess in 1975 as well as Scott Joplin's opera Treemonisha in 1983. In 2005 the company staged the world premiere of Richard Danielpour's Margaret Garner, based on Toni Morrison's novel Beloved. MOT also established an international reputation for the staging of rarely performed operas such as the North American premiere of Armenian composer, Armen Tigranian's, Anoush in 1981, Polish composer, Karol Szymanowski's King Roger in 1991, and the American premiere of Stanisław Moniuszko's The Haunted Castle in 1982. In 1989 the decision was made to purchase MOT's current home, the Detroit Opera House Originally called the Capital Theatre, the building, designed by C. Howard Crane, was in need of extensive restoration. The company eventually gained enough money to purchase the entire block encompassing the neighboring Roberts Fur building, which the company demolished in 1993 to make way for the 75000 sqft stage house. The monumental task which became known as "The Detroit Opera House Project" took approximately 7 years to complete and was supported by local individuals, corporations, foundations and unions. Luciano Pavarotti was also a major contributor to the campaign, bringing the attention of the public to the project at large by promising to sing at the opening of the new opera house, donating large amounts of money to the cause, and by making various appearances around Detroit in performances designed to raise money for the project. In April 1996, MOT celebrated the opening of its new home with a Gala event which received international coverage. Among the guests at the Gala were opera stars Joan Sutherland, Luciano Pavarotti, Irina Mishura, Helen Donath, Marcello Giordani, Gregg Baker, Alessandra Marc, and Elizabeth Parcells, conductor Steven Mercurio, and actor Roddy McDowall. The evening also featured a Fanfare for the Detroit Opera House by American composer William Bolcom which had been especially commissioned for the Gala. In 1996 MOT also added a permanent dance season to its repertoire with performances by the American Ballet Theatre and the Cleveland San Jose Ballet.


Several of Detroit's performing arts venues have been home to Michigan Opera Theatre. With the move to the Music Hall Center in 1971. MOT is credited with helping to regenerate Detroit's Entertainment District. Still operating as Overture to Opera the company saved the Music Hall from demolition in 1971 and staged its first season there with productions of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and Puccini's La rondine. Besides the Music Hall, MOT has staged productions at the Detroit Masonic Temple Theatre, and the Fisher Theatre. In the 1984 spring season the company moved to the Masonic Temple to accommodate larger audiences and bigger productions. Its first production at the Masonic Temple was Anna Bolena, starring Joan Sutherland. The production also featured the American Midwest premiere of English surtitles. In 1985 the company moved to The Fisher Theatre for its autumn season and staged West Side Story which received an extended run and became one of Michigan Opera Theatres top grossing productions.

Arts education and outreach

Michigan Opera Theatre's Department of Community Programs was founded by Karen Vanderkloot DiChiera in 1977. Since then, it has established The Joyce H. Cohn Apprentice Award Fund to support MOT's Young Artist Apprentice Program. It has also been awarded the Success in Education Award by Opera America. MOT's Arts Education and Outreach program, which is a division of MOT's Department of Community programs works with students in local schools. The department also host Learning at the Opera House which offers classes, and workshops for children and adults during the summer months. The department also offers touring programs to local schools, churches and community groups. MOT's Department of Community programs has also premiered many operas. They include Vigilance, Pete, The Pirate, and Nanabush which were composed by Karen V. DiChiera and Summer Snow which was composed by Fred Rogers of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood.

The Margo V. Cohen Center for Dance

The Margo V. Cohen Center for Dance was founded in 2001 and is run by Dr. Carol Halsted the Director of Dance. The department which is also a component of MOT's community outreach programming hosts the company's Dance Film series and the American Ballet Theatre summer intensive program. The center also hosts year-round dance classes for beginning to advanced dance students. Dance auditions are also held at the center.

The Allesee Dance and Opera Resource Library

The Allesee Dance and Opera Resource Library is the official library and archive for Michigan Opera Theatre. It specializes in research materials specific to dance, opera and MOT's 40-year history. The library was made possible in 2006 with a gift from Robert and Maggie Allesee. The library and archive center carries books, scores, CDs, videos and hundreds of unique items such as photos and performance reviews from MOT's productions. The Allesee Dance and Opera Resource Library's catalogue was recently made available for the public to access online through a unique partnership with Wayne State University's School of Library and Information Science.

Notable productions

Outside of the standard repertoire, notable productions have included:


  • 1979: MOT's production of The Most Happy Fella which traveled to Broadway and received rave reviews
  • 1984: Donizetti's Anna Bolena featuring Australian soprano Dame Joan Sutherland. This was the first appearance in the Midwest of surtitle translations
  • 1988: Puccini's La Boheme featured Russian tenor Vyacheslav Polozov's.
  • 1999: Massenet's Werther featured Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli's North American opera debut, with American mezzo Denyce Graves. The production was webcast.
  • 2003: Luciano Pavarotti appeared in his last Michigan performance at the Palace of Auburn Hills
  • 2005: Grammy Award winner Richard Danielpour's Margaret Garner world premiere, from a libretto by Nobel Prize winning author Toni Morrison
  • 2007: MOT's general director Dr. David DiChiera's Cyrano in its world premiere. The libretto was by Bernard Uzan.


  • 1989–90 Season: Swan Lake performed by Cleveland Ballet; this was the first time dance appeared in the season.
  • 1991-92: MOT produces its first ballet, choreography by Iacob Lascu
  • 1996: American Ballet Theatre and Cleveland San Jose Ballet, MOT's first dance session
  • 1998: Alvin Ailey MOT debut
  • 1999: Paul Taylor Dance Company MOT debut
  • 2001: Joffrey Ballet MOT debut
  • 2002: Ballet Internationale The Nutcracker the beginning of a tradition
  • 2002–2003: Bolshoi Ballet
  • 2003: Dance Theatre of Harlem
  • 2003: Les Ballets Africains
  • 2004: The Kirov Ballet
  • 2004: North Carolina Dance Theatre A Streetcar Named Desire
  • 2005–2006: Savion Glover
  • 2007: The Grand Rapids Ballet Where The Wild Things Are

    Notable artists

    Among the notable artists who have sung at MOT early in their careers are: Detroit-born Maria Ewing who sang in the 1970 The Barber of Seville production; Leona Mitchell, who sang Bess in the company's 1975 production of Porgy and Bess; Kathleen Battle, whose 1975 performance as Rosina in The Barber of Seville marked her operatic debut; Catherine Malfitano, who created the role of Catherine Sloper in MOT's world premiere staging of Washington Square in 1976. Other notable artists include The Metropolitan Opera's Jerome Hines, a bass, who in 1974 sang the title role of Boris Godunov; Nicole Cabell who sang Musetta in La bohème in 2005, a few months after winning the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition; Australian soprano Dame Joan Sutherland who sang the title role in Donizetti's Anna Bolena; Martina Arroyo and Ghena Dimitrova who sang in MOT's 1986 production of Turandot; Luciano Pavarotti who sang at Joe Louis Arena in 1989; Irina Mishura who played Carmen during the 1996-97 season; The Three Tenors in 1999 at the historic Tiger Stadium in Detroit, Andrea Bocelli who made his staged operatic debut in Werther and Denyce Graves who made her MOT debut in Werther; Vyacheslav Polozov, the Russian tenor who sang in Puccini's La Boheme; and Ewa Podleś, the Polish contralto who sang in Verdi's A Masked Ball.



    Michigan Opera Theatre has staged the world premieres of the following operas:
  • Washington Square, composed by Thomas Pasatieri to a libretto by Kenward Elmslie after Henry James's novel, Washington Square. (October 1, 1976)
  • Singers / "What is there to sing about?" composed by Charles Strouse 1978
  • Margaret Garner, composed by Richard Danielpour to a libretto by Toni Morrison based on her novel Beloved. (May 7, 2005)
  • Cyrano composed by David DiChiera to a libretto by Bernard Uzan after Edmond Rostand's play Cyrano de Bergerac. (October 13, 2007)

    North American

    Michigan Opera Theatre staged these North American Premieres
  • Anoush composed by Armen Tigranian Based on a Poem by Hovhannes Toumanian 1981
  • The Haunted Castle composed by Stanislow Moniuzko 1982
  • Michigan Opera 40th Anniversary Season 2010–2011