Michigan Opera Theatre Sparks Excitement with Appointment of New Artistic Director

By: Karen Dybis | September 14, 2020
Michigan Opera Theatre

Photo Credit: Paul-David Rearick.

Think of him as the wunderkind Eminem of the opera world – Yuval Sharon brings an open mind, vast experience and a passion for Detroit to his new role as Artistic Director for the storied Michigan Opera Theatre. 

The early September announcement of Sharon’s appointment comes as the Michigan Opera Theatre (MOT) prepares to celebrate its 50th anniversary. The MOT also is expanding its community reach in innovative ways, connecting with Detroiters, music lovers, opera fans and thrill seekers alike through its fresh programming. 

Sharon begins his tenure this October with “Twilight: Gods,” a production of Richard Wagner’s “Götterdämmerung” (“Twilight of the Gods”) staged in the Detroit Opera House Parking Center, featuring Christine Goerke. The 2021-22 season, Sharon’s first full season as artistic director, will be announced this spring.

It’s a perfect first performance for the well-regarded artistic director – Sharon is best known for bringing what is described as “new and experimental opera” into moving vehicles, operating train stations, Hollywood sound stages, and various “non-spaces” such as warehouses, parking lots and escalator corridors, MOT officials said in their announcement of Sharon’s appointment.

“I think opera in Detroit should look, feel and sound like no other opera company in the world; it should have Detroit’s attitude and Detroit’s style,” Sharon said during the virtual press conference that announced his appointment. 

“One of the things that draws me here is the city of Detroit because I see it as a fertile ground of change. I feel like the Detroit I’m getting to know is a city of survivors … going through extraordinarily hard time,” Sharon said, in the wake of coronavirus and related economic hits.

“[Detroit] is a model of resilience and creativity in the face of hardship – and the art that is made here should reflect that spirit,” Sharon says. For Sharon, that means Aretha Franklin as well as Derrick May, a well-known and respected techno pioneer and innovator.

Sharon will serve as the first-ever Gary L. Wasserman Artistic Director, a nod to Wasserman himself. Sharon’s five-year appointment is made possible by a gift from Gary L. Wasserman, a member of the MOT Board of Directors.

Wasserman said at Wednesday’s virtual press conference that this third transformation at MOT will “bring great joy and affirmation to this city of boundless creativity.”

“[This appointment] positions the company to proceed with confidence, strength and stability,” Wasserman said. “Detroit will be the focal point of opera in the 21st century … creating art that will gain international attention conceived in Detroit.”

“Our best days are ahead of us,” agreed Board President Ethan Davidson, who also spoke during the virtual press conference announcing Sharon’s appointment. “Following David DiChiera is not an easy job. It is a humbling call, I”m sure. But we’re confident that our choice aligns with his vision for the company.”

Sharon joins President and CEO Wayne S. Brown as the leadership team for MOT going forward. In addition to his appointment at MOT, Sharon will continue his role as Artistic Director of The Industry, a Los Angeles-based artist-driven company creating experimental productions that tries to “expand the definition of opera,” according to its website. 

Sharon has amassed an unconventional body of work that expands the operatic form. As founder and Artistic Director of The Industry in Los Angeles, Sharon conceived, directed, and produced the company’s acclaimed world premieres of Sweet Land, Hopscotch, Invisible Cities, and Crescent City, as well as the “performance installations” In C at the Hammer Museum and Nimbus at Walt Disney Concert Hall.

The first American ever invited to direct at Bayreuth, Sharon distinguished himself with a progressive Lohengrin in 2018, using dramatic direction to completely overhaul the opera into a critique of entrenched power structures. From 2016-2019, Sharon was the first Artist-in-Residence at the Los Angeles Philharmonic, creating nine projects that included newly commissioned works, site-specific installations, and performances outside the hall. His residency culminated in a major revival of Meredith Monk’s opera ATLAS, making him the first director Monk entrusted with a new production of her work.

Sharon is the recipient of the 2014 Götz Friedrich Prize in Germany for his production of John Adams’s Doctor Atomic, originally produced at the Staatstheater Karlsruhe and later presented in Seville’s Teatro de la Maestranza. He also directed a landmark production of John Cage’s Song Books at the San Francisco Symphony and Carnegie Hall with Joan La Barbara, Meredith Monk, and Jessye Norman. His 2016 production of Peter Eötvös’s Three Sisters at the Wiener Staatsoper led Opernwelt to call him “one of the most interesting arrivals on the musical landscape.”

His production of Cunning Little Vixen, originally produced at the Cleveland Orchestra, was the first fully-staged opera ever presented in Vienna’s Musikverein in October 2017. In 2017, Sharon was honored with a MacArthur Fellowship and a Foundation for Contemporary Art grant for theater.

Michigan Opera Theatre, a nonprofit arts organization, is committed to presenting opera and dance of the highest artistic caliber, it said. Founded in 1971 by Dr. David DiChiera, the company’s mission is to serve as a major cultural resource to the state of Michigan and the city of Detroit. The organization is led by President and CEO Wayne S. Brown, the Gary L. Wasserman Artistic Director Yuval Sharon and Chairman of the Board Ethan Davidson.