Michigan Opera Theatre (Detroit, MI)

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Men and women cast members onstage surrounding the lead singer

Gregg Baker as Robert Garner, Denyce Graves as Margaret Garner, and Angela Brown as Cilla with members of the chorus in Michigan Opera Theatre’s production of Margaret Garner. Photo by John Grigaitis

In 1963, the Michigan Opera Theatre (MOT) was established as an education  and outreach component of the Detroit Grand Opera Association.  It became a professional opera company in 1971 and today annually reaches more than 250,000 people in the Detroit area through five opera productions, four dance presentations, and year-round arts education and outreach programs for all ages.  MOT operates in a very diverse area of the country, which is reflected in its performances, which often feature young, multicultural artists.

MOT received an NEA Access to Artistic Excellence grant of $40,000 in FY 2005 to support the world premiere of Margaret Garner.  Composed by Grammy-winning composer Richard Danielpour, with a libretto by Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison, Margaret Garner is set in 1856 and tells the true story of a fugitive slave's fight for freedom.  This work, while adding to the American opera repertoire, also provided new opportunities for African-American opera singers to perform in lead roles.  MOT hopes that its production will serve as a catalyst for the commission of more operas with African-American themes.

In addition to five performances, which ran between May 7-22, 2005, MOT arranged a four-week lecture series focused on the social issues inherent in the production, as well as its historical significance and artistic impact.  For students ages 12-18, MOT developed an educational curriculum around the play.  These educational programs reached a total of 40,000 people; this is in addition to the 15,250 people who attended MOT’s performances of Margaret Garner.

(From the NEA 2005 Annual Report)