Tiaras & Tuxedoes

Behind the scenes with Opera Lyra general director Michael Dobbin

They say it’s not over until the fat lady sings – but to Michael Dobbin, Opera Lyra Ottawa’s new general director and CEO, it’s not over until everyone has seen you in a tiara.

“Opera is a fun and glamorous thing to do,” explains Dobbin, who took the company’s reins in May. “I think people give opera a bad rap because they are ignorant of it, often. But opera is where the hip and sophisticated go.”

The founder of the PlayRites Festival of New Canadian Plays in Calgary and experienced actor, director, dramaturge and producer has three decades of experience to his credit.

Dobbin faces an exciting time for the world’s fastest-growing art, and has personally vowed to change opera’s stuffy reputation.

“We all love to be glamorous, don’t we?” asks Dobbin. “And Opera Lyra is a great place to strut your stuff. It’s the place to dress up, whether that be in your $200 jeans or your tux, your glam gown or your best tee and slacks, your tiara and jewels or whatever. They don’t call it Grand Opera for nothing.”

Dobbin says people think of opera as inaccessible and don’t realize that thanks to Canadian-invented “surtitles” audiences can always follow the plot, regardless of what language the actors are singing.

“People who do not know opera will be surprised to hear how familiar the tunes are in Madam Butterfly,” he says of the upcoming season opener. “They will have heard them many times and just not known.”

A great lineup alone won’t bring audiences to the stage, so Dobbin has his work cut out for him. One of his biggest challenges will be to “out” opera lovers he suspects lurk in the closets of the gay community.

“I suspect that Opera Lyra does not have its fair share of people from ‘our community’ amongst its audience,” he admits. “Maybe OLO has never made it clear that the invitation is open and we want to see the gay community there in numbers, having fun.”

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Culture, Ottawa, Arts

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