Opera Grand Rapids Artistic Director
Meet Opera Grand Rapids Artistic Director Maestro James Meena. In charge of programming and educational initiatives beginning in the 2017-2018 season—the same season Opera Grand Rapids celebrates its 50-year legacy— Mo. Meena’s duties include selecting repertoire, hiring guest artists and production teams, auditioning singers, and ensuring the artistic excellence of all Opera Grand Rapids’ productions and programs.
Maestro James Meena | Artistic Director
James Meena, Opera Carolina’s General Director and Principal Conductor since 2000, consistently earns critical acclaim for his artistic vision and dynamic presence on the podium. The breadth of his repertoire is represented by the works of Mozart, Beethoven, Puccini, Berlioz and Verdi, the world première of Victor Davies’ Transit of Venus, to full ballet productions and symphony concerts.
This season, Mo. Meena conducts a double-bill of Pagliacci/Aleko with New York City Opera; Il barbiere di Siviglia, La fanciulla del West, and La traviata with Opera Carolina; a Masterworks Concert with Memphis Symphony Orchestra; and La bohème with Opéra de Montréal.
Maestro Meena guest conducts at leading opera houses throughout North America, including Opéra de Montréal for Madama Butterfly, Pagliacci/Gianni Schicchi, Le nozze di Figaro, and La traviata; Michigan Opera Theatre for Die Zauberflöte; Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra for Porgy and Bess; Edmonton Opera for Falstaff, Otello, Macbeth and Eugene Onegin; an exciting new co-production of Roméo et Juliette with Virginia Opera and Toledo Opera; and Manitoba Opera, where he conducted the première of Transit of Venus by the Canadian team of composer Victor Davies and librettist Maureen Hunter, recorded for national broadcast on the CBC. His Opera Carolina performances of Faust, Eugene Onegin, and Il trovatore are captured on recording for NPR World of Opera.
With extensive experience in opera, ballet, and symphonic music, Maestro Meena held principal and resident conducting posts with the Cleveland Ballet, Toledo Symphony, and Toledo Opera, in addition to guest conducting appearances that include a nationally televised Thanksgiving concert for the Korean Broadcasting System Symphony; performances of Stravinsky’s tour de force La sacre du printemps with the National Symphony Orchestra, Taiwan; concerts with the Cairo Symphony Orchestra in the new Cairo Opera House; and symphony concerts with the orchestra of the Teatro Massimo Bellini in Catania, the Orchestra della Toscana in Italy.
Mo. Meena was engaged as guest conductor with orchestras and opera companies in the United States, Italy, Taipei, Korea, Canada and Mexico including the Mexico City Philharmonic, the Washington Opera, Opera Pacific, Portland Opera and the Utah Opera. On opera stages, he has conducted legendary singers including Renée Fleming, Denyce Graves, James McCracken, Mignon Dunn, Marilyn Horne, Jerome Hines, Diana Soviero, Jerry Hadley, Mark Delavan and Marcello Giordani.
From Voix des Arts of Mo. Meena’s most recent performances of Turandot:“Under the baton of James Meena the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra delivered an awe-inspiring performance of the score. Maestro Meena’s conducting was notable for the manner in which, like the great past interpreters of the operas of Richard Strauss, he coaxed sounds from the orchestra that compellingly fulfilled the lush late-Romantic promise of the melodic lines while also always sounding like an opera composed in 1924. The influence of Debussy has almost never been more discernible than in Maestro Meena’s handling of the score. His work in Charlotte has been consistently perceptive, but he found in Turandot—a score by which many conductors have been defeated—an ideal outlet for the controlled ecstasy of which he is a master.”
From the online Opera Magazine Opera Lively of his 2014 performances of Nabucco: “Maestro Meena and the Charlotte Symphony were spot on – this is as good as it gets; the conducting and playing tonight were among the best I’ve ever heard, and the highest musical value of the evening. It was a true pleasure to hear. We are blessed at Opera Carolina with an excellent conductor and a truly superior orchestra.”
Since becoming General Director and Principal Conductor of Opera Carolina, Mo. Meena has demonstrated exceptional leadership, vision and finesse in the area of philanthropic development, having expanded the Opera Carolina season from 3 to 4 main-stage productions, as well as adding an annual Gala Benefit Concert. He expanded the Education touring company from 8 weeks in 1999 to 17 weeks, and, in the face of government funding cutbacks, generated twice the requisite private sector funding needed.
Since 2000-2001 season, Opera Carolina has presented six regional premières, including Cold Sassy Tree and Susannah by Carlisle Floyd, the company’s first productions of Der Rosenkavalier, Nabucco, Macbeth, and Les pêcheurs des perles, and the regional premiere of Richard Danielpour’s new American opera, Margaret Garner, starring Denyce Graves in April 2006. Through Meena’s personal efforts, the Charlotte performances of Margaret Garner were recorded and broadcast over National Public Radio’s World of Opera program. He is also featured on Opera Carolina’s webseries A Look Behind the Curtain, which can be seen here. Since 2000, Opera Carolina’s budget has increased from $1.9 million to $3.5 million, and has posted positive fund balances in each of these years.
Maestro Meena is a graduate of Carnegie Mellon University and Baldwin Wallace College Conservatory of Music. His principal conducting teachers include Thomas Mihalak (New Jersey Symphony), Robert Page (Cleveland Orchestra), Rudolph Fellner (Pittsburgh Opera), and Boris Halip (Bolshoi Ballet), with whom he also studied violin. Mr. Meena has served as Assistant Conductor to Andre Previn, Gunther Schuller, Michael Tilson Thomas, Anton Guadagno, and Anton Coppola. For several seasons, he was Associate Conductor of the Pittsburgh Opera, where he made his operatic début conducting Die Zauberflöte. He made his professional début with the Pittsburgh Symphony conducting Haydn’s monumental oratorio The Creation. Mo. Meena was awarded the Distinguished Alumni Award by his undergraduate alma mater in 1997 for his commitment to visionary excellence and growth of cultural institutions.