"I grew up in a town of 3,000 people in Georgia, and no one had seen an opera or heard an opera, and it wasn't until I was almost in college when I saw my first (one)," Dean says.
"It was something that I thought was the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen. It struck a chord with me, and it just never let go."
The Mississippi Opera puts on several major operatic productions each season, including sold-out performances of the Gilbert and Sullivan comedy "The Mikado" at Duling Hall in November 2016, and an upcoming performance of Giuseppe Verdi's tragic masterpiece, "Rigoletto," on Saturday, April 22, at Thalia Mara Hall.
These shows are just one face of what the Mississippi Opera does, though, Dean says. The company also has two popular recent additions to its schedule, including the monthly "Cabaret at Duling Hall" series and the annual "Voices of Mississippi" competition.
Dean, who became the opera's artistic director in 2010, first launched the "Cabaret" events at the now-closed Underground 119 in downtown Jackson under the name "Opera Underground" in 2011.
"I wanted ... to present operatic music and musical theater in a setting where people could relax, have a drink, socialize, enjoy great music, and it didn't seem so stiff or distant, like sitting in an audience where you're looking at something 25 or 30 yards away on a stage," he says.
Another recent ongoing event for the Mississippi Opera is "Voices of Mississippi," a vocal contest that takes place each fall and launched about three years ago as a way to celebrate opera and musical-theater singers with ties to our state. In order to participate, the singer must have been born in Mississippi, live here, lived here in the past or went to school here.
"We call our state 'the birthplace of America's music' because of blues, gospel, rock-and-roll and country music," Dean says.
"Those are the four genres that get mentioned, but there's also operatic music that goes on here, a lot of classical music and all kinds of music. We have such great talent here."
<em>For more information, visit msopera.org.</em>