Introducing Patty Isacson Sabee - Detroit Opera

Introducing Patty Isacson Sabee


Introducing Patty Isacson Sabee. Photo credit: Yassine El MansouriPhoto credit: Yassine El Mansouri

As 2024 begins, we are delighted to welcome Patty Isacson Sabee, who started on January 2 as Detroit Opera’s new President and CEO. 

“It gives me chills every time to be able to say ‘President and CEO of Detroit Opera,’ ” she says. “This company is about opportunity. It’s about innovation. Most of all, it is about Detroit. At Detroit Opera, Wayne Brown proved that he understood what it means to truly bring art to this community, creating a new way for us to work. Detroit Opera is where it’s happening, in so many ways! There’s the extraordinary legacy of David DiChiera and the historic Detroit Opera House, and the incredible work of the artistic team—Yuval Sharon, Christine Goerke, Roberto Kalb, and Jon Teeuwissen. I’ve talked to people at Detroit Opera who’ve worked here 31 years, and people who’ve been here for 30 days, and you all light up when you talk about Detroit Opera. That says the world to me about what kind of place this is, and what we can be.” 

You’ll be hearing more from Patty in the months to come, but to start off the year we’d like to share an informal interview with Christine Goerke, our Associate Artistic Director, when Patty was introduced to the company’s staff and board last August. 

Christine Goerke: We’re so thrilled to have you here! It’s an exciting time for the company, the way we’re moving forward every time we make a change. What are you most looking forward to about this new chapter? 

Patty Isacson Sabee: I am most looking forward to an opportunity to dive into an organization that is really thinking about what it means to be an opera company and a dance presenter and an opera house and a community trusted partner for today’s audiences, for what people are experiencing now, for the way that they want to enjoy and nurture their souls. That is what I see Detroit Opera doing. 

CG: For the past few years, Detroit Opera has had a national and international impact, which is incredible. What do you think that this means for Detroit—this broader reach? 

PIS: I think it means attracting the kinds of international talent that we have seen coming to Detroit. It means attracting the staff and production teams who come to work here, who see the stature and what Detroit Opera can bring. It means an opportunity for our impact to be more than just what happens for the community here, because that’s what we all want: to grow more opera lovers. The more people who experience and love opera and the more that people here get to see dance from all over the world—Jon Teeuwissen is bringing all kinds of international companies here—this is the way for Detroit to experience the world, and for the world to experience Detroit. It’s amazing! 

CG: You’ve had an immense amount of experience working in both the orchestral and museum worlds. How will you bring that experience to Detroit Opera? 

PIS: The experience that I’ve had in the museum world has been about taking advantage of every way we have now to approach presenting arts and culture. Planet Word, the museum that I helped start in Washington, D.C., doesn’t have a collection. It’s about ideas, like opera, which is about such big ideas. It isn’t necessarily just about reading a text box and looking at something. It’s about experiencing the power and beauty and the joy—it’s about activating with your own voice. It’s about connection across the stage, and this is what I see Detroit Opera doing in the way that we’re educating and engaging with the community, the way that we are starting to look at opera and how it can be deconstructed and constructed, how we can use the vast possibilities of technology and animation to really explode the visuals and the scenic elements, to engage with everything we have, to make opera as exciting and as relevant as it can be. 

CG: How would you like to build on the legacy of your two predecessors? 

PIS: That’s hard to answer, because of the extraordinary work they’ve done. It’s up to all of us to embrace what David DiChiera and Wayne Brown have done for Detroit Opera, and bring it forward. We are a team that’s going to make this work together. 

CG: Lightning round! What opera character would you play if you could sing any role in opera? 

PIS: Actually, I’m shy. So, what is it like to be Brünnhilde? 

CG: Oh, it’s really loud! That’s a good one, I’m not going to lie. What’s your favorite opera performance or opera experience? 

PIS: Oh, my gosh—it’s hard to choose, with so many favorite opera experiences! But I do have a guilty pleasure. Do you know the Franco Zeffirelli La Traviata film? I’ve probably seen it 22 or 23 times. 

CG: Best topping for Detroit style pizza? 

PIS: Pepperoni. 

CG: What does the S in Wayne S. Brown stand for? 

PIS: Superman? 

CG: Tigers, Lions or Red Wings? 

PIS: Pistons? 

CG: Favorite Motown classic? 

PIS: R-E-S-P-E-C-T! 

CG: You studied the viola: what’s the best viola joke? 

PIS: Okay, Christine. So, a violist and a soprano were thrown off a cliff. Who landed first? 

CG: I’m terrified by this. 

PIS: The violist, because the soprano had to stop halfway down to ask for directions. 

CG: I promise the questions will be harder next time!


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