This week’s column is a tribute to one of San Jose’s most amazing and accomplished people: Miss Irene Dalis, founder of Opera San Jose and a world-class international opera star. I consider myself fortunate to have known Miss Dalis for more than three decades and even more fortunate to have witnessed the growth and development of the company she created.
Miss Dalis was born and raised here in San Jose, and at a very young age she climbed the heights of success in international opera. I only know of this part of her life from reading about it and hearing stories from those who were there. I did not come to opera until my thirties, and the company I learned from was Opera San Jose.
In 1980, I began the work of creating San Jose Repertory Theatre. As part of my efforts, I contacted Miss Dalis to meet with her. She was then teaching at San Jose State University and had created what she called “The San Jose Opera Workshop.” I remember the absolute power of her presence when I introduced myself. She has a very stern look when she concentrates.
I admit that I was a little intimidated by her, and I wasn’t sure she was interested in what I was doing. I inquired about her opera workshop and she laid out her plans to eventually have a professional company here in San Jose.
Miss Dalis was able to convey both the grandeur of her vision and her appreciation for how difficult it would be to see it through. Despite a somewhat tense ambiance in that room, I couldn’t help but feel enthused. In our conversation she said something to the effect of not really knowing much about me, and that her friends and associates didn’t really know much about me either.
I felt a bit uncomfortable, but I remember thinking that this was an opportunity. I stressed that we both were trying to create professional performing arts institutions in our hometown, and we should be allies. We have been friends ever since and I am among her many unabashed admirers.
We eventually worked together to create the San Jose Arts Roundtable. While I left the Rep, Irene has been the visionary and the steady leader behind Opera San Jose—once time an impossible dream, but now an entertaining, artistically excellent company. This is her final season at the helm and I salute and thank her.
Through Opera San Jose, I have become an aficionado and enthusiastic fan of Opera San Jose, whose young performers learn their art in a supportive, professional atmosphere and eventually move to the larger opera world as competent, experienced artists.
Thanks to the dedication and uncompromising work of Miss Dalis, we have an excellent opera company and young artists have a great place to work.
James P. Reber is the executive director of San Jose Parks Foundation, a veteran nonprofit entrepreneur and experienced special event planner and producer. He can be reached at email@example.com or 408.893.PARK.