Opera impresario to debut new work

DiChiera's 'Cyrano' to premiere Oct. 13

By D. A. Blackburn

DETROIT - Dr. David DiChiera is a man who dreams in operatic proportions. Having founded two of the nation's most successful opera companies and transformed a decrepit Detroit movie palace into a world-class venue, he has seen monumental undertakings come to fruition. What's more, in the 36 years he's spent at the helm of the Michigan Opera Theatre, DiChiera has brought two world premiere productions to life - and expanded interest in opera into previously uncharted territory.

This season, MOT will mount yet another world premiere - a work which may be the most significant accomplishment in DiChiera's career. And this time, it's personal: On Oct. 13, the Detroit Opera House will raise the curtain and give life to "Cyrano," an opera that DiChiera has spent nearly a decade composing.

DiChiera is not new to the world of music composition, having previously penned works that have been performed around the globe, but "Cyrano" marks his first full-length opera.

"I've been wanting to write an opera for many years, and I think I was kind of afraid of it - so every time I thought about a subject I turned it down," DiChiera said. "So I kept thinking about it, and I realized I needed a major love story."

In 1998, while preparing for a production of Jules Massenet's "Manon," director Bernard Uzan suggested he and DiChiera collaborate on an opera, and base the work on Edmond Rostand's "Cyrano de Bergerac." After discussing the work at length, and setting music to a brief scene written by Uzan, DiChiera realized that he had found the perfect story. He was drawn to Rostand's poetic verse and felt that it was a perfect compliment to his neo-romantic composition style.

DiChiera and Uzan decided that it was integral to maintain the work's original language of French, and present the work with English surtitle translations. "It really wasn't a tough decision. Rostand's poetry is so beautiful that we felt it would suffer in translation," DiChiera said.

With Uzan at work on finding a libretto, DiChiera asked long-time friend Mark Flint, general director of Augusta Opera, to handle orchestration. Flint, formerly MOT's music director and a regular guest conductor, has the distinction of having led the MOT orchestra for more productions than any other maestro.

Acclaimed English designer John Pascoe, who collaborated with DiChiera to create Dame Joan Sutherland's final "Norma," was engaged to bring "Cyrano's" lavish French setting to life.

The Florida Grand Opera and the Opera Company of Philadelphia signed on as co-commissioners of "Cyrano," helping to cover the work's estimated $2 million production cost. Further assisting with the financial burden, Compuware and Dow Automotive signed on as title and production sponsors, respectively.

Initially, DiChiera had hoped that one of his colleagues would give the work its world premiere, but MOT's board of directors - particularly chairman Rick Williams - insisted that the work open in Detroit. "The board had a real sense of ownership in this, and felt that they should have the opportunity to give the world premiere. I resisted a good while, but then I began to understand that it would be much different if we were the only company presenting it. It would be like publishing your own book," DiChiera said. "But the work has a life beyond Michigan Opera Theatre, and I'm proud that the board felt so strongly about it, so I gave in."

Among DiChiera's many accomplishments and accolades, "Cyrano" has a very personal significance. But the 72-year-old impresario believes there may still be a few measures in the score of his career. He's even open to the idea of additional compositions.

"Already, I miss the period of time when I was composing this opera. It's very satisfying work, very absorbing, so I'll leave the door open to inspiration."

(FOR "REVIEW BOX")

PREVIEW:

'Cyrano'

A world premiere staged by the Michigan Opera Theatre at the Detroit Opera House, 1526 Broadway Street, Detroit. Oct. 13, 17, 20, 26 and 28. Tickets: $25-$147. For information: 313-237-7464 or http://www.michiganopera.org

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