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2020 Nov

Meet Peggy Dye with Virginia Opera

Virginia Opera’s new CEO shares her plans for the future.

Peggy Kriha Dye was recently appointed as Virginia Opera’s new General Director and CEO. As a soprano, she performed on more than 100 stages in over 40 productions throughout the world. In 2011, she decided to pursue an administrative career in the arts and comes to Virginia Opera after having been General and Artistic Director + CEO at Opera Columbus. Let’s meet Peggy and learn more about her plans for Virginia Opera, soon to be celebrating its 50th anniversary!

TFP: Tell us about your background. Were you always attracted to the arts in general and music in particular?
PD: I grew up in Northern Minnesota and was not exposed to classical music very much. My mother is, among other things, a wonderful painter so creativity was always a part of my life. I was in choir in high school and loved making music, but not necessarily as a soloist. My choral teacher took music very seriously, and I grew to respect it more and more.

TFP: When did you decide to pursue a career in music? Were there any roadblocks?
PD: I went to college to get a degree in music education. I wanted to stay involved in music, and that seemed like a practical way to make it a part of my life. I had a voice teacher there suggest I see what it was like to perform at a higher level. I was lucky enough to spend a summer after graduation in a program in upstate NY—Chautauqua Opera, and I feel that’s when my eyes really opened. I loved the drama, the comradery, and being a part of something that’s so important. I am a hard worker, but I strongly believe that I was really lucky. Many doors were open to me. I hope to open as many doors as I can for the many talented young artists today.

TFP: From your years as a performer, what was your favorite role? Why?
PD: This is a familiar question to me, and I think as time goes on, my answer changes. I enjoyed singing Mozart so I’m going with Donna Elvira from Don Giovanni—the crazed nun who is ridiculously fun, and Mozart wrote such rich music for her. I love the recitative—speaking on pitch—that happens in between the arias and ensembles. I loved playing this over-the-top character and exploring the drama in this role. Lots of happy memories.

TFP: What are the challenges facing opera in the 21st-century? How do you plan to tackle some of these challenges?
PD: Besides the obvious challenge of this pandemic and the economic fall out that all of us are facing, opera has a plateful of additional challenges. Opera has the earned reputation of being elitist and unrelatable.

Operas are often long, in another language from its audience, and very Caucasian. I am fighting to make opera more accessible and inviting for everyone. Equity, Diversity and Inclusion is a huge factor and sits front and center for me. I don’t grasp it like I should and realize I can never stop trying to understand and learn and to incorporate it in all aspects of opera. A lot of the other issues I believe will be addressed by having this as a focus and priority.

TFP: What would you say to someone who believes that opera is not relevant or important in modern society?
PD: Give it a try! The stories of most traditional operas are being presented differently, and the themes of love, power, grief, and joy will make you laugh and feel and think about things differently. Opera is the most emotionally heightened of the art forms, and these messages can stay with you forever. New opera focuses on the very issues of today or recent history. It forges conversation and humanizes important issues.

TFP: What are your plans for attracting new audiences to upcoming Virginia Opera performances?
PD: We are creating that strategy now. I am starting only my second week here, but that is on the table for discussion and decision making. There is so much we can do!

TFP: How are women’s roles changing in the arts world today?
PD: I have many women colleagues, which is good, yet we are exception on the grand scale. Women directors, composers, and leaders influence the way we are portrayed on stage and treated at the workplace. We are offering a fresh perspective. And women are hiring women, which is a very good thing.

TFP: How can parents help their children develop a love for the arts?
PD: Bring them to a live performance! It may seem that so much isn’t grasped by them, but they don’t need a full understanding of the art for it to have a positive and lasting impact on them. I suppose that’s a good lesson for all us.

TFP: Feel free to share anything I have not asked you about that you would like our readers to know.
PD: I ask for your readers to get involved. Art is the great healer, and we need that now more than ever. Support the arts any way you can. You will be richly rewarded!

For more information about the Virginia Opera, please visit www.vaopera.org.

Peggy Sijswerda

Peggy Sijswerda is the editor and publisher of Tidewater Family Plus magazine. She has an MFA in creative nonfiction from Old Dominion University and is the author of Still Life with Sierra, a travel memoir. Peggy also freelances for a variety of regional, national, and international magazines.

Website: www.peggysijswerda.com

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