Ethan Davidson: “I’m excited to be part of the team.”

Ethan Davidson was first introduced to opera by MOT founder David DiChiera and is now the chairman of the MOT Board of Directors and Trustees.

Featured photo courtesy of Michigan Opera Theatre

Ethan Davidson, recently elected chairman of the Michigan Opera Theatre (MOT) Board of Directors and Trustees, got his introduction to opera from David DiChiera, MOT founder and independent composer.

As a teen, Davidson was friendly with DiChiera’s daughters and often visited their home, where music seemed almost ever-present. The sounds came either from classical recordings or DiChiera’s own talents at the piano.

Davidson, who went on to build his own career as a touring folk-rock singer/songwriter recording 10 albums, enjoyed listening to all kinds of music and even experimented with opera for a time.

At the University of Michigan, while earning a degree in English literature, Davidson had a jazz band and played bass as they performed adaptations from operas.

“I think it’s going to be a lot of fun being MOT chairman,” says Davidson of Birmingham, director and Grants Committee chair of the William Davidson Foundation, a private family foundation dedicated to advancing the economic, cultural and civic vitality of Southeast Michigan, Israel and the Jewish community.

“It’s an exciting opportunity to take on a new challenge, but it’s also exciting on a personal level because I was always so friendly with David DiChiera and his family.”

Davidson, also on the Board of Trustees for the Motown Museum, joined the MOT board after he stopped touring in 2006 to help establish his late father’s foundation. He wanted to get a more complete experience in philanthropy by getting involved with local organizations. Music-centered initiatives fit in with his deep personal interests.

Davidson succeeds Rick Williams, who served as MOT chairman for 17 years. The transition will involve a restructuring of the board.

Three vice-chairs include JoAnn Danto, former dance professor and soloist with the Joffrey Ballet; Peter Oleksiak, senior vice president and CFO at DTE Energy; and Ankur Rungta, co-founder and partner at Penlife Media. Treasurer is Enrico Digirolamo, chairman of Good Travel Software. Secretary is Gene P. Bowen, co-chairperson of Business Practice Group, Bodman PLC.

“MOT restructured governance of the organization around a model that could have people sharing responsibilities,” Davidson says. “That’s going to work because the people involved have extensive knowledge that can be effective.”

Davidson has been doing research into what successful opera companies are doing that might also be effective for MOT.

“I’ve been to the Metropolitan Opera in New York and the San Francisco Opera, so I’m making my rounds,” he says. “I’m interested in the opera companies that have been on the cutting edge.

“I’m going to the Lyric Opera of Chicago in a few weeks and will see performances and talk to the leadership. I’ve talked to people at Opera Columbus, which has brought performances to young adults in spaces that are not traditional opera spaces.

“I also hear a lot of good things are happening in St. Louis, so I hope to make contact with leadership there as well as in Dallas.”

As with arts organizations in general, there are explorations of ways to increase funding as well as audience interest. Davidson is looking into sources of revenue that go beyond philanthropic and corporate funding.

“At the William Davidson Foundation, we really feel that to have a world-class city, you have to have world-class assets,” Davidson says. “If you don’t have cultural vitality, it makes it less attractive to entrepreneurs who want to invest and create jobs and opportunities.”

Davidson is enthusiastic about the current MOT production, Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd, which continues through Nov. 24. It features Tony Award winner and Michigan native Karen Ziemba.

“This is a more contemporary piece, and I hope these sorts of productions will resonate with younger audiences,” he says.

Resonating with Davidson’s family away from opera are synagogue services that include lots of music; performances by Davidson’s wife, Gretchen, a guitar player who also tours with the band Universal Eyes; and Davidson’s own music now available free on the web.

Davidson, who writes some of the lyrics he performs, can be heard on YouTube with numbers that include “Death Don’t Have No Mercy” and “Someday I’ll Be Caught.” Singles from his album “Come Down Lonesome,” with some lyrics inspired by Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, are available through Spotify.

“We can never rest on our laurels,” Davidson says about his goals for MOT. “We have work to do, but we’re starting from a very good place. I’m excited to be part of the team.”

Sweeney Todd runs through Nov. 24 at the Detroit Opera House. Tickets start at $39. (313) 237-7464. Look online for the 2020 season.