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Setting the Stage

Michigan Opera Theatre founder, former music professor David DiChiera reflects on the University’s growth in performing arts

Michigan Opera Theatre founder David DiChiera


icon of a calendarNovember 15, 2017

icon of a pencilBy Emell Derra Adolphus

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David DiChiera was a young musicologist with a concentration in 18th century Italian opera when Oakland University Chancellor Woody Varner called to offer him a job in 1962. “I thought Oakland was outside of San Francisco, California,” says DiChiera, who received his doctorate degree from the University of California, Los Angeles. Realizing it was in the Midwest, “I thought to myself: That’s not where I thought I would go.”

But as a young school, DiChiera saw an opportunity to build at Oakland.

“That was the sales pitch that got me,” he remembers. “I wasn’t interested in just going to a place like the University of California, Berkeley or Princeton University and teaching 18th century opera.” Developing a performing arts program at OU meant creating something that could improve over generations, he explains.

“‘You can do what you think is good for us,’ Varner said. And so I decided to do that,” says DiChiera. “Even though every time winter came I kind of regretted it.”

In his 10 years at OU, DiChiera became chairman of the music department and was involved in establishing the Meadow Brook Theatre and Meadow Brook Music Festival before moving on to create the Michigan Opera Theatre in Detroit.

“I’m always so excited to see how OU has evolved,” he says. “They were trying to make a university that was new and that had a vitality that you don’t always see in a very established university. That was really exciting, and I think a lot of that has remained part of the atmosphere.”

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