David DiChiera, son of Italian immigrants, was born in McKeesport, Pennsylvania, and raised in Los Angeles, California. He graduated from UCLA in 1956 with highest honors and election to Phi Beta Kappa. His activities as a pianist and composer garnered him the Atwater Kent and Gershwin Awards and, upon receiving a Masters Degree in Composition at UCLA, he was selected to be a Fulbright scholar for studies in Italy. Commissioned by the United States Information Service to compose a sonata for the Naples Festival of Contemporary Music, while in Italy he conducted extensive research on the unpublished manuscripts of Eighteenth Century opera. This culminated in a series of articles for the world’s leading music encyclopedias including Ricordi’s Enciclopedia Della Musica, Groves Dictionary of Music and Barenreiter’s Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart.
Returning to UCLA, Dr. DiChiera served on the music staff as an instructor and consequently received his Ph.D. in Musicology. In 1962, Dr. DiChiera came to Michigan to join the faculty of music of the newly established Oakland University. From 1963 to 1965, he also held the post of Assistant Dean for Continuing Education in the Arts at Oakland University and was thereafter elected Chairman of the Department of Music.
In 1963, Dr. DiChiera introduced a new civic enterprise in Detroit, the popular “Overture to Opera” series, a program of staged opera scenes and one-act operas he narrated and toured to hundreds of schools and community centers throughout the state. The success of the series over a period of years laid the groundwork for creating Michigan’s own professional opera company in 1971, with Dr. DiChiera as general director.
At the same time, David DiChiera spearheaded the establishment of the Music Hall Center for the Performing Arts, which, under his artistic leadership as founding director, began a tradition of providing theater, music and dance for Michigan. DiChiera’s dual role as general director of Michigan Opera Theatre and artistic director for the center, with its multi-purpose 1,800-seat theater, was noted in the national press. The Christian Science Monitor stated “DiChiera overcame Detroit’s inferiority complex about the arts by mounting events of national interest,” while The New York Daily News proclaimed “Michigan Opera Theatre has become the focal point of a cultural renaissance in Detroit.”
From 1979 to 1983, Dr. DiChiera served as president of Opera America. Under his leadership, the national organization established a major initiative in opera education programs throughout the country. In the area of public information, he encouraged Opera America to focus on strategies to help generate a positive image and interest in opera for a greater portion of the population. During this time, DiChiera spearheaded a major project entitled “Opera for the ‘80’s and Beyond,” which developed bold, innovative methods of encouraging and funding new American musical theater works. The success of this project led to the development of another Opera America project, the Lila Wallace Reader’s Digest Fund/Opera for a New America Program, of which Dr. DiChiera served as chairman for two years. This project encouraged companies to reach previously under-addressed segments of the population, and has been instrumental in securing funding for this multi-million dollar project.
In 1981, Dr. DiChiera was appointed Artistic Director of the financially troubled Dayton Opera Association. The success of his first season was evident in a 25% increase in season ticket sales, multiple performances for the first time in the company’s 20-year history and a dramatic turnaround in critical response to new artistic standards. Under his artistic stewardship, Dayton Opera developed the distinction of having the largest subscriber base of any opera company in Ohio. In 1993, DiChiera retired from his association with the company in order to concentrate his efforts on Michigan Opera Theatre and Opera Pacific.
In 1986, when Orange County, California launched Opera Pacific, Dr. DiChiera was asked to provide artistic and administrative leadership as general director. This opportunity allowed him to pursue a vision of arts management that provided opportunities for collaborative efforts, enhancing artistic quality and fiscal stability. Under his guidance, Opera Pacific received national recognition for its role in establishing Orange County as an exciting and growing cultural center. Like DiChiera’s Michigan Opera Theatre, Opera Pacific earned a ranking among the top 15 opera companies in the nation, and top four in California. In October of 1996, DiChiera announced his resignation as general director, citing the need to devote more time to the rapidly growing Michigan Opera Theatre.
Dr. DiChiera served as a trustee for the National Institute of Music Theatre and as a board member of the American Arts Alliance. He has been a panel member for the National Endowment for the Arts and chairman for the Opera/Musical Theater Panel. He has also chaired several national music conferences. Dr. DiChiera chaired the second annual conference of the International Association of Lyric Theatre, convened in Verona, Italy, and was twice elected vice president of the organization.
In April of 1996, Dr. DiChiera realized a dream. On the company’s twenty-fifth anniversary, he cut the ribbon for the grand opening of the Detroit Opera House. Under his leadership, Michigan Opera Theatre joined the ranks of major opera companies worldwide with the multi-million renovation of a 1922 movie palace. Michigan Opera Theatre is one of only a few opera companies in the United States to own its own opera house. The product of Dr. DiChiera’s dream, the Detroit Opera House, is comparable to the world’s greatest houses in visual and acoustical beauty. In 2005, DiChiera and his Michigan Opera Theatre completed the final capital campaign for the completion of the Detroit Opera House project, which allowed for the development of the Detroit Opera House Parking Center (opened 2005) and the Ford Center for Arts and Learning (2006), a six-story facility dedicated to the cultural education and enrichment. DiChiera’s vision for the Detroit Opera House has resulted in a cultural and economic renaissance for the city of Detroit, generating millions of dollars in urban development.
As a composer, David DiChiera’s music continues to receive critical acclaim. His Four Sonnets, with verses by Edna St. Vincent Millay composed for soprano and piano, premiered at the Kennedy Center in Washington, the work “beautifully crafted and warmly expressive of the poetry.” Paul Hume of the Washington Post called DiChiera “a composer with great sensitivity and keen awareness of the beauties for the voice.” A children’s opera, Rumpelstiltskin, written in collaboration with Karen VanderKloot DiChiera, has been performed nationally. In 2007, DiChiera realized yet another dream as his new opera, Cyrano, received its highly anticipated world premiere at the Detroit Opera House. Cyrano, composed by DiChiera, to a libretto by Bernard Uzan, will also be presented by Florida Grand Opera and Opera Company of Philadelphia.
Dr. DiChiera has garnered honor and recognition abroad and at home by the Detroit City Council, the Michigan State Legislature, the Michigan Council for the Arts and Cultural Affairs, the University of Detroit and the Governor of Michigan. The Detroit News elected Dr. DiChiera Michiganian of the Year in 1979, stating “Dr. DiChiera has done more than any single person in the city or state to bring opera to the people.” He expanded upon this concept by creating a permanent home for opera in Michigan with the 1996 opening of the Detroit Opera House.
In recognition of his mandate to build bridges of understanding and cooperation across racial, social, economic and political divides, David DiChiera received the 2000 Bridge Builder’s Award, bestowed by the Partner’s for Livable Communities, a Washington DCbased civic leadership organization. In May of 2005, Michigan Opera Theatre was again in the world spotlight as it presented the world premiere of Margaret Garner, a new American opera by Richard Danielpour and Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison. The result of DiChiera’s desire to present a culturally appropriate opera as the company’s first world premiere on the Detroit Opera House stage, Margaret Garner, a project spearheaded by DiChiera, further fulfilled Michigan Opera Theatre’s mission to connect with new audiences and build bridges into the community it serves. In celebration of this historic world premiere, and in recognition of Michigan Opera Theatre’s extraordinary strides in promoting diversity in opera, Opera America held its annual conference in Detroit that same year. In the summer of 2005, the National Association of Negro Musicians honored DiChiera for his continued support of African American artists. David DiChiera delivered the commencement address at the University of Michigan’s graduation ceremony in 1998 and was awarded an honorary Doctor of Music Degree. He has also received honorary doctoral degrees from Oakland University and Marygrove College. In recognition of his contributions to the musical world, he has been honored by the mayors of New York, San Francisco, New Orleans and Detroit, as well as the governments of France and Italy.
Pronunciation Key: DiChiera (dee-key-AIR-uh)