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New Michigan Opera Theatre CEO: Wayne Brown

He talks opera, the future of the company and his return to Detroit

Detroit native Wayne Brown is heading home to helm the Michigan Opera Theatre—only the second CEO in the company's 43-year history—and he credits the city's growing art community as one of his main reasons for making the move.

"To be able to come back to the city at an important and exciting time, and to be a part of the Michigan Opera Theatre, is a great moment for me and my family," Brown says. "I am looking forward to the opportunity to make sure that we have a vibrant and compelling and appealing company going forward. To be able to say that the opera company is an organization that embraces many cultures, communities, ethnicities ... that's my target, that's my goal."

Brown grew up in the Russell Woods neighborhood in Northwest Detroit, and he still vividly remembers his first opera experience performing at the Masonic Temple with a touring Metropolitan Opera production.

"I had a role as a supernumerary—otherwise known as an extra onstage. It was a performance that involved the great soprano Joan Sutherland and the great mezzo-soprano Marilyn Horne. It was a production of Norma, and it's one of those memories that had a lasting effect. It was a great way to be introduced to this incredible art form," Brown says.

While in college, Brown was groomed for a career in arts management. He studied both voice and business at the University of Michigan, where he also served as the business manager and president for the historic Men's Glee Club. After college, Brown got a job as an administrative assistant with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.

He has since held positions with the Cultural Olympiad in Atlanta, the Louisville Orchestra and the National Endowment for the Arts.

"I had the luxury to be able to have on-the-ground training with some of the finest people and artists of our time," Brown says.

Brown and his wife Brenda Kee, a pianist, have a daughter who works in human resources and son who recently returned from Iraq and now attends the University of Louisville.

Brown began his CEO duties last month, and he has numerous ideas and plans for the MOT. At a time when fine-arts audiences wane, Brown acknowledges the importance for the company to engage new as well as old crowds.

"(We have) to create a culture that is welcoming, that is nurturing, that's fun, that's entertaining. And opera, because it's one of the most multidimensional art forms available, is quite experienced in doing just that," Brown says.

"Michigan Opera Theatre is about opera, it's about dance, it's about presentations, it's about community," Brown adds. "To the degree that we continue to offer a range of remarkable artistic experiences, that's how we will best penetrate the community—that's how we will best address younger audiences, that's how we will best give to the traditional masterworks of our time."

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