Staff

Administration

Emilee Syrewicze | Executive Director

A native of West Michigan, Emilee Syrewicze previously served as the Executive Director of the Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation in Charlotte, North Carolina. Prior, she was Executive Director of the Northwest Michigan Supportive Housing (NMSH) in Traverse City, Michigan. Syrewicze, a classically trained pianist, earned a B.A. at Alma College, Alma, Michigan, in Political Science with concentrations in chemistry and music and a J.D. with a focus on nonprofit and environmental law/policy at Vermont Law School in South Royalton, Vermont. During law school, Emilee clerked for the Center for Environmental Law & Policy in Seattle, Washington. Emilee is currently on the Board of Directors for the Torch Conservation Center.

Sarah Watson | Operations Director

Sarah Watson is a graduate of Grand Valley State University with a degree in Group Social Studies Education and Theatre. She has over 10 years of experience in production work, and began working for Opera Grand Rapids in May 2014 as an Assistant Stage Manager. When not at the opera, Sarah continues to volunteer and work on productions at Grand Valley State University, Grand Rapids Civic Theatre, Heritage Theatre Group and Jewish Theatre.

Alexandra Galla | Box Office & Development Manager

Alexandra Galla is a recent graduate of Western Michigan University with a degree in Vocal Performance. Lexi has performed with Opera Grand Rapids as a chorus member in The Magic Flute and La Traviata, was the winner of the 2018 Collegiate Vocal Competition, and participated in the Opera Grand Rapids Emerging Artist program. Lexi works full time in the box office and hopes to join the professional opera field in the future.

Jasanna Tayler | Social Media Manager

Jasanna Tayler is a Junior at Western Michigan University working towards a Bachelor of Music in Vocal Performance and a Bachelor of Business Administration in Marketing. Around Campus, she is involved with Western Michigan University Choirs, Opera Workshop, Alpha Lambda Delta Honors Society, and a member of Lee Honors College. In her free time, she tutors for Music Maestros, a tutoring program offered by the College of Fine Arts. Originally from Grand Haven, Michigan, Jasanna is excited to contribute to a company that provides exemplary productions for West Michigan.

Artistic Team

James Meena | Artistic Director

James Meena consistently earns critical acclaim for his artistic vision and dynamic presence on the podium in concert, opera and ballet. Mo. Meena serves as Artistic Director for Opera Carolina (Charlotte) and Artistic Director for Opera Grand Rapids. Recent engagements include acclaimed performances of Tosca at the Luglio Festivale Trapani in Sicilia, a double-bill of Rachmaninoff’s rarely-performed Aleko paired with Pagliacci as well as La fanciulla del West, both with the restored New York City Opera; Le nozze di Figaro for Teatro Sociale Rovigo Italy, La fanciulla del West for five prestigious Italian theaters: Teatro del Giglio, Lucca Italy, Teatro Verdi in Pisa, Teatro Alighieri di Ravenna, Teatro Pavarotti di Modena and Teatro Goldoni di Livorno, a Gala concert with Renee Fleming and the Toledo Symphony Orchestra; Porgy & Bess with Margaret Island Open-Air Theatre in Budapest for their Summer Festival, La bohèmewith the prestigious Puccini Festival in Torre del Lago, La bohème with Opéra de Montréal, and Masterworks Concerts with Memphis Symphony Orchestra, in addition to his productions with Opera Grand Rapids, Toledo Opera, and Opera Carolina. Next season, Mo. Meena makes his debut with the Shanghai Opera.

Austin McWilliams | Associate Conductor & Director of Music Education

amcwilliams@operagr.org

Austin McWilliams, conductor and countertenor, strives to present compelling, intriguing music that is directly relevant to the communities in which it is performed. He is the Associate Conductor and Director of Music Education at Opera Grand Rapids, where he acts as both chorus master and head of the contemporary opera series dedicated to marginalized communities. In 2022 he will conduct the world premiere of Frances Pollock’s Stinney about George Stinney, a 14-year-old black boy who was wrongfully convicted and executed in 1944. Austin is also an Adjunct Professor of Choral Studies at Western Michigan University, where he conducts the university operas and choral ensembles and teaches several courses. He is the choir director at Fountain Street Church, a non-denominational, non-creedal institution that serves as a venue for radical speakers and ideologies, and is Co-Artistic Director of the Ad Astra Music Festival, a classical music festival in Russell, Kansas, known for its innovative and unique programming. In 2021 at Ad Astra he conducted the world premiere of Anna Pidgorna’s new opera Our Trudy about the life of a local art teacher. He is a course developer at Mizzou Academy and a faculty member at Missouri Scholars Academy, an annual, month-long governor’s school for gifted high school juniors in his native state. In 2019, Austin earned a Master of Music degree in choral conducting at WMU under Kimberly Dunn Adams. There he designed a recital on HIV/AIDS awareness in collaboration with several community organizations, and he earned the School of Music Graduate Award for Excellence in Teaching. Austin graduated in 2017 from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with a Bachelor of Science in computer engineering.