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 Meena joins Opera Grand Rapids succeeding the departure of Maestro Robert Lyall, former Artistic Director and Conductor for the company since 1989. The decision to appoint Meena follows the completion of a recent strategic study and focus on the creation of a new five-year roadmap for the company.
“Given his extensive expertise and proven accomplishments, Maestro Meena was a clear choice to fill our needs in the areas of artistic leadership with enhanced community engagement,” Opera Grand Rapids Board President Bob Evett said. “He will be instrumental in crafting and implementing our vision for the company.”
Revered for both his conducting and artistic vision, Mo. Meena consistently earns critical acclaim for his work at the podium. The breadth of his repertoire is represented by the works of Mozart, Beethoven, Puccini, Berlioz and Verdi. 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.
Throughout his career, Meena has been committed to ensuring visionary excellence and advancement of the cultural institutions he leads. Opera Grand Rapids General Director Anne Berquist predicts a period of renewed growth for the company as a result of his leadership.
“Maestro Meena is not only an exceptional leader, his artistic vision is unmatched. There is no doubt that he will usher in a new era of excellence and creativity for Opera Grand Rapids and be a wonderful addition to the Grand Rapids arts community at large,” Berquist said.
Maestro Meena’s duties include choosing repertoire, selecting guest artists and production teams, auditioning singers alongside Opera Grand Rapids Chorus Master Dr. Patrick Coyle, and ensuring artistic excellence of all Opera Grand Rapids’ productions and programs. Meena is also expected to have a central role in outreach and patron relations.
Grand Rapids audiences can expect to see Mo. Meena at the podium, among other guest conductors.
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 three to four main-stage productions, as well as adding an annual Gala Benefit Concert. He expanded the Education touring company from eight-weeks to 17-weeks, and, in the face of government funding cutbacks, generated twice the requisite private sector funding needed. 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.
Opera Grand Rapids hopes to experience a similar growth from Maestro Meena’s leadership. Meena has already begun fervently mapping the course for the company’s upcoming seasons with much excitement.
“West Michigan is a wonderful area brimming with creative opportunity. My mind is a buzz with ideas for broadening opera’s footprint and impact on the community,” Meena said. “There is so much that can be done to excite the hearts and minds of those we engage, and I am thrilled to be working to set these plans in motion.”
Opera Grand Rapids will kick off its 50th anniversary mounting two large-scale productions at DeVos Performance Hall, a chamber opera at its home location, the Betty Van Andel Opera Center—featuring newly-installed theatre seating, a grandiose gala celebration, plus other activities. More details are to be announced this spring.
Beyond his leadership skills, Mo. Meena is a seasoned veteran at the podium. His conducting has been called “awe-inspiring” (Voix des Arts of Mo), “spot on” and “the best I’ve ever heard” (Opera Magazine).
Maestro Meena has been a frequent guest conductor with leading orchestras and opera companies in the United States, Italy, Taipei, Korea, Canada and Mexico, including 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.”
His principal and resident conducting posts include Cleveland Ballet, Toledo Symphony, and Toledo Opera, and Associate Conductor for Pittsburgh Opera.
Other notable conducting appearances include the season-opening double bill of Rachmaninov’s Aleko and Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci for New York City Opera last fall, a nationally televised Thanksgiving concert for the Korean Broadcasting System Symphony; performances 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 Regionale Toscana in Italy.
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. 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.