Born in McKeesport, Pennsylvania and raised in Los Angeles, California, David DiChiera moved to suburban Detroit in 1962 to become a professor and ultimately chairman of music at Oakland University. His work at the university laid the foundation for him to create Michigan’s own professional opera company, Michigan Opera Theatre, in 1971.
From 1979 to 1983, while president of Opera America, DiChiera spearheaded a major project to develop innovative methods of funding new American musical theater works, and also began an initiative to support companies in efforts to reach previously under-served segments of the population. In addition to running Michigan Opera Theatre, DiChiera directed the Dayton Opera Association for more than 10 years. In 1985, he also founded Opera Pacific in Orange County, California, becoming the only general director in the nation to have founded and led two opera companies in a unique collaboration.
In 1996, DiChiera devoted his full efforts to his mission of creating an opera house for Detroit. On Michigan Opera Theatre’s twenty-fifth anniversary in April 1996, Joan Sutherland cut the ribbon for the grand opening of the Detroit Opera House, making MOT one of only a handful of American opera companies to own its home.
Throughout its history, Michigan Opera Theatre has been at the forefront of nurturing the careers of leading African-American artists. In his desire to present an opera representative of the local community, DiChiera commissioned Richard Danielpour and Toni Morrison’s opera Margaret Garner, an opera based on a fugitive slave story in pre-Civil War America, which became the first world premiere on the Detroit Opera House stage in 2005.
As a composer, DiChiera’s music continues to receive critical acclaim. Among his works, Four Sonnets, with verses by Edna St. Vincent Millay for soprano and piano, premiered at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. and has since been widely performed. In October 2007, his opera Cyrano received its world premiere at the Detroit Opera House and was later successfully presented by Opera Company of Philadelphia and at Florida Grand Opera in 2011.
In October 2010, DiChiera was honored by the National Endowment for the Arts with their Opera Honors Award, our nation’s highest award for lifetime achievement in opera.