San Jose Mercury News: Superstar Mezzo-soprano and Founder of Opera San Jose, Dies at 89

Posted Dec. 15, 2014 by the San Jose Mercury News.

By Mark Emmons

SAN JOSE — Irene Dalis, the beloved Grande Dame of the South Bay arts scene who reached the lofty heights of international stardom as a mezzo-soprano opera star before returning home to found Opera San Jose, has died. She was 89.

Dalis was a towering figure in the local artistic community and remained the driving force behind Opera San Jose until retiring as director in June after three decades with the organization.

“Irene had many, many wonderful attributes, but her greatest was an undying love of San Jose,” said her close friend Andrew Bales, president of Symphony Silicon Valley. “She had a major international career as a performer, as an amazing diva. And then she came home for what, in her mind, was something that was far more important — creating Opera San Jose. Her passing really is the end of an era and a terrible loss for San Jose.”…

She was born Yvonne Dalis on Oct. 8, 1925, and grew up on Delmas Avenue in downtown San Jose, the last of five children of a Greek hat maker. She rose from humble origins to embark on a long, storied career, performing at the highest levels of world opera, including at New York’s Metropolitan Opera House.

A prodigious musician — who considered herself more a pianist than a singer — Dalis received her bachelor’s degree from San Jose State College (now San Jose State University), in 1946 and her master’s degree in music education from Columbia University Teachers College. There were honorary doctorates, and before launching her stellar career, Dalis was a Fulbright scholar.

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