Detroit Opera House brings younger voices to chorus of city arts supporters

You won't find arias on Jerrid Mooney's iPod, and he won't judge you for not knowing an opera seria from an opera buffa. The 36-year-old Detroiter just wants to see you in the Detroit Opera House, and he wants to see the Michigan Opera Theatre thrive.

To him, the Opera House's vitality is part of a bigger quality of life issue facing the city, which has seen a decline in arts funding, including most recently monies that supported some of the city's favorite arts-heavy festivals. (So long, Cityfest and Festival of the Arts.)

"To be very blunt, if you lose these organizations, you could just shovel the city in. You're done," says Mooney, head of the Opera House's young professional's organization called C4. "What business would want to invest in a city that has nothing to offer? I equate the arts to being just as important to the city as water or sewage services. That quality of life is paramount."

The leadership of the Michigan Opera Theater, which calls the Detroit Opera House home, is working to get more young people in the opera house doors. The upcoming BravoBravo! has helped, but they want to take it a step further.

And what's good for the Opera House is good for the city as a whole, says Mooney. The opera can be a gateway, he says. "I am that example. That is me. It got me down here. Now I am a resident. I am involved."

The bug

Mooney grew up in metro Detroit, lived out of state for a while, and came back to the Mitten State and lived in Ann Arbor for a while. He moved to Detroit a few years ago after realizing that he was spending most of his spare time in the city, anyway. He found himself at the annual BravoBravo! MOT fund-raising event, and eventually fell hard for the Opera House -- both its physical beauty and the people involved in the MOT.

Mooney likes opera just fine, and he appreciates the artistry, but his real passion is for the city, its arts assets and its people. And in Bravo, he saw how all of those things merged into a wonderful event. He wanted to be part of it.

Bravo is one of Detroit's premier see-and-be-seen events. In its 11 years, it has almost taken on a life of its own. It sells out -- economy be damned -- and packs the opera house with glammed up Detroiters digging into food from 30 restaurants, soaking in the extraordinary themed d├ęcor and enjoying not typical Opera House entertainment. This year's theme is fashion, and Will Sessions is headlining.

"Bravo is very, very important to the Opera House," Mooney says.  Last year, 2,000 people came to the event, raising $180,000 to support MOT. Organizers are hoping for $250,000 this year.

Nicole Brown, a young professional-type who works by day with the Woodward Avenue Action Association, has spent the past few years volunteering at Bravo. She says her involvement in the Opera House's young professional's group helped her find her way in the city after she returned from being away for college, as well as support music and arts she loves. "I grew up a fan of classical music. I took lessons, so I have a deep appreciation for classical music," she says. "It was a great way for me to get reacquainted to the city and find other young people who have a passion for opera and dance."

Beyond Bravo

After a Wednesay night show of Don Giovanni recently, a group of Wayne medical students sipped on drinks in an Opera House lounge. For some of them, this was their first opera event. For all, it was their first MOT event. Another twentysomething and her friends giggled after she asked one of the show's leads about the particular tightness of his costuming. Opera House regular season ticket holders would agree this is not the typical afterglow scene.

It was an ACCESS night, and the show was sold out, which MOT folks say is amazingly fabulous for a Wednesday night. The ACCESS nights offer $20 tickets to operas and dance for those 21-40, and include the post-show reception with the cast. MOT spokesperson Rebekah Johnson says the shows have been extremely popular. The hope is that some of these opera newbies will come back and get involved.

And C4 is working to provide more ways to get them involved. Young opera boosters originated the idea of Bravo 11 years ago, and Mooney says there's room for more great ideas to keep the MOT vital. C4 -- which stands for 4 Cs of "culture, community, collaborate and connect" -- is prepared to launch some interesting initiatives.

C4 member and BravoBravo! volunteer Brown had the idea to get even younger people into the Opera House to consider careers in the arts. Creative Careers 101 is launching in the fall, and will introduce college aged-kids to the inner workings of the MOT. "The whole goal is to introduce college kids to having a possibility in the arts, not only the artistic side -- your designers and artists -- but also the business side," she says.

Mooney says the beauty of the organization is that there is room to make your mark, and Brown's program is one example of how ideas are welcomed and embraced.

He hopes to work with other young professional organizations in the region, such as the New Leaders of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and the Founders Junior Council of the Detroit Institute of Arts. "I want to reach out to other groups and get some core people here who are interested in helping MOT, and see where we can work with each other," he says.

Other events in the works include parties, smaller fund-raising events and a speaker series. The hope, he says, is to "demystify the opera house and the opera house crowd." He wants people to know the institution is accessible and welcoming to younger people. And he wants people to see the connection between supporting the arts and supporting their city.

"You don't have to be an insider, or know a thing about opera. I walked off the street. I didn't know a single soul," he says. "We are about Detroit. We love Detroit, and we are going to help it any way we can. "

If you are interested in C4 or helping out with next year's BravoBravo!, contact Jerrid Mooney here.

Tickets for this year's BravoBravo!, set for June 4, are $85. The event historically sells out, so it'd be wise to get them soon. Purchase tickets at the Detroit Opera House box office, by phone at (313) 237-SING, or online at

Clare Pfeiffer Ramsey is editor of Model D. Send feedback here.

All Photographs © Marvin Shaouni Photography
Contact Marvin here


A couple share a drink after the performance of Puccini's Tosca at the Detroit Opera House

A sold out performance at the Detroit Opera House

Intermission in the lobby of the Detroit Opera House

ACCESS After Glow

Puccini's Tosca at the Detroit Opera House

Mingling during the ACCESS After Glow
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