Irene Dalis

Founder of Opera San José

Irene Dalis, before her retirement from the stage in 1977, was a principal artist at New York’s Metropolitan Opera for twenty consecutive seasons, appeared regularly with Covent Garden, Berlin, Hamburg, Bayreuth and other major opera houses in Europe and the U. S. and was distinguished by the range and large number of roles in her repertoire.

She had her operatic debut in Oldenburg, West Germany, in 1953 as Princess Eboli in Verdi’s epic, Don Carlo. By the end of her career she had performed in every major opera house from Naples to San Francisco, and had forty-four roles in her repertoire. Recognized from the beginning as a major dramatic talent, she was most often engaged to sing operas by Verdi, Wagner, and Richard Strauss, eventually performing every major dramatic mezzo-soprano role by these operatic giants. Miss Dalis was the first American-born Kundry (Parsifal) to open a Bayreuth Festival, and was the first mezzo-soprano to perform Lady Macbeth at the Metropolitan Opera.

Among her many awards and distinctions, Irene Dalis has been honored with a Grand Prix du Disque for her recording of the opera Parsifal, made in live performance at Bayreuth under conductor Hans Knappertsbusch in 1962. Most recently, she received a special Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2008 Silicon Valley Arts & Business Awards for the “immeasurable impact she has had on the arts in San Jose and the region. She was honored by the Board of Directors of the Metropolitan Opera in commemorating her twentieth anniversary season with that company. She has been given San José State University’s Tower Award and honorary Doctor of Music degrees from both Santa Clara University and  San José State University. Most recently, she was featured in the March 2007 issue of Opera News in an article recapping her career at the Metropolitan Opera as well as her achievements as founder and General Director of Opera San José. In fall of 2008, she received a lifetime achievement award at the Silicon Valley Arts & Business Awards (ABBYs) for her leadership in the field of the arts. Ms. Dalis was the first artist to receive the award, putting her in a group that includes David Packard, Bill and Hillary Clinton, Peter Hero and Blanca Alvarado.

On retirement from her performing career, Miss Dalis returned to her native San José where she was appointed a Full Professor of Music by the President of San José State University. Her principal focus at SJSU was the opera program, and. her work there quickly surpassed the production standards expected of collegiate opera. The program produced such a large number of career entry-level performers that Miss Dalis was able to establish a professional, regional company, Opera San José, in 1984. Ms. Dalis served as general director of OSJ for 30 thirty years, retiring on June 30, 2014. The company now showcases talented American singers from across the nation. The company has received excellent notices in journals from Warsaw, Berlin, London, Milano, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and, of course, San José.

Irene Dalis’ credits include: Principal Artist at the Metropolitan Opera, San Francisco Opera, Covent Garden, Bayreuth Festival, Chicago Lyric Opera, Berlin, Rome, Naples and others. Her awards include: Fulbright Award, 1951; Richard Wagner Medallion, Bayreuth, West Germany, 1963; Grand Prix du Disque (Parsifal recording, Phillips, Bayreuth Festival 1962), 1964; Tower Award, San José State University, 1974; Honored by the Board of Directors of the Metropolitan Opera Association on the occasion of her twentieth anniversary season, 1977; Woman of Achievement Award from the San José Mercury News and the League of Friends of Santa Clara County, Commission on the Status of Women, 1983; Commendation from the Honorable John Vasconcellos, 23rd Assembly District, 1983; inducted into the California Public Educators Hall of Fame, 1985; Award of Merit from the People of the City of San Francisco, 1985; Honored Citizen of the City of San José, 1986; San Francisco Opera Gold Medal Award, 1998. Miss Dalis is listed in Who’s Who in America (since 1958); Who’s Who in Opera (since 1971); and Who’s Who in Music; Beautiful Minds Award recipient, 2010. She obtained her B.A. from San José State University, her M.A. from Columbia University (New York), and  honorary Ph.D.s from Santa Clara and California State University.