David DiChiera, founder of Opera Pacific, dies in Detroit

David DiChiera, who led Orange County's Opera Pacific for more than a decade, died on Tuesday. (Photo courtesy Michigan Opera Theatre)

Dr. David DiChiera, the founding general director of Orange County’s Opera Pacific, died just before 10 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 18 at his home in the Detroit Golf Course Community, said a spokesperson for Michigan Opera Theatre. DiChiera, 83, had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in April 2017.

Under DiChiera’s direction, Opera Pacific hosted many of opera’s greatest artists, including Luciano Pavarotti in 1988, Dame Joan Sutherland in 1989 and Plácido Domingo in 1991.

At its peak with DiChiera the company put on six productions each year, staging around six performances of each.

A composer and musicologist by training as well as an impresario, DiChiera was born to Italian-immigrant parents in McKeesport, Penn. on April 8, 1935. His family moved to Los Angeles when he was 10.

DiChiera attended UCLA, intending to become a concert pianist, but changed his emphasis to composition and studied with Lukas Foss. After studying on a Fulbright scholarship in Italy, he returned to UCLA to earn a PhD in musicology.

In 1962, DiChiera moved to the Detroit area. He joined the faculty of Oakland University and led Overture to Opera, a group that toured city schools performing opera scenes linked to the Metropolitan Opera’s annual visit to Detroit. Eventually it grew in size, presenting full-length operas and moving to the Music Hall Theatre. In 1971 it became Michigan Opera Theatre. DiChiera was its founding general director.

In 1981, DiChiera was appointed artistic director of Dayton Opera. In 1985, he became general director of Opera Pacific, and he divided his time between Detroit, Dayton and Orange County. The arrangement generated a number of coproductions, including a 1989 Opera Pacific–Michigan Opera Theatre “Norma” that marked Joan Sutherland’s farewell to the title role.

DiChiera resigned from his Opera Pacific in 1996 to concentrate on Michigan Opera Theatre and devote his attention to an ambitious and ultimately successful venture: the transformation of a derelict downtown Detroit movie palace into a permanent home for the company.

The Opera Pacific survived another 12 years without him, closing permanently in 2008.

Paul Hodgins is the senior editor of Arts & Culture at Voice of OC. He can be reached at phodgins@voiceofoc.org