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James Meena, Opera Carolina’s General Director & Principal Conductor since 2000, consistently earns critical acclaim for his artistic vision and dynamic presence on the podium. The breadth of his repertoire is captured in the standard works of Mozart, Puccini and Verdi to contemporary works including Carlisle Floyd’s Cold Sassy Tree and Victor Davies’ Transit of Venus.
Mo. Meena made his debut at his home company, Opera Carolina, conducting Roméo et Juliette, which was greeted with unanimous praise. The Charlotte Observer said he was, “…leading the Charlotte Symphony in a sure reading of Charles Gounod’s difficult score…the musicians sounded Thursday like they were working comfortably under Meena’s baton. The string section produced an unusually warm sound for a pit ensemble.” Of another performance of Verdi’s Il trovatore, the same publication said, “…he is a singer’s conductor, attentive every moment to the singer’s art, though not afraid to unleash the orchestra when appropriate… a firm hand at the musical helm.” Mo. Meena’s Portland Opera performances of Verdi's Falstaff were also greeted with acclaim. Opera Canada said, “Mo. Meena conducted this difficult and complex score with brilliance, clarity and precision, always supporting, never overwhelming the stage action.” Likewise, in his Sarasota Opera performances of Puccini’s La rondine, Opera magazine commented, “Mo. Meena conducted with keen affinity for the sheer beauty of the score...the orchestra realized Puccini’s transparent instrumentation with sensitivity and panache.”
Conducting career highlights of recent seasons include new productions of Pagliacci/Schicchi, Le nozze di Figaro and La traviata for L’Opera de Montreal, Nabucco, Les pêcheurs des perles, Macbeth, Turandot and Aida for Opera Carolina, the Korean Broadcasting System Symphony in a nationally televised Thanksgiving concert; performances of Stravinsky's tour de force, Le Sacre du Printemps with the National Symphony Orchestra, R.O.C., concerts with the Cairo Symphony (Egypt) in the new Cairo Opera House, Falstaff, Otello and Macbeth for Edmonton Opera and the premiere of Transit of Venus by the Canadian team of composer Victor Davies and librettist Maureen Hunter for Manitoba Opera.
He has appeared as guest conductor with orchestras and opera companies in the United States, Italy, Taipei, Korea, Canada and Mexico including the Mexico City Philharmonic, the Orchestra della Toscana in Florence, The National Symphony, R.O.C., the Orchestra Teatro Massimo Bellini in Catania, the KBS Symphony Orchestra, the Washington Opera, Opera Pacific, Portland Opera and the Utah Opera. In the operatic world, he has conducted legendary singers Mo. McCracken, Mignon Dunn, Marilyn Horne and Jerome Hines, as well as Diana Soviero, Renee Fleming, Denyce Graves, Jerry Hadley, Mark Delavan and Marcello Giordani.
In the twelve seasons since becoming General Director & Principal Conductor of Opera Carolina, Mo. Meena has expanded the Opera Carolina season from 3 to 4 main-stage productions, as well as adding an annual Gala and Holiday concerts. He expanded the Education touring company from 8 weeks in 1999 to 17 weeks in 2005. Since 2000-01, the Opera Carolina has presented six regional premieres, 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 Mr. Meena’s personal efforts, the Charlotte performances of Margaret Garner were recorded and broadcast over National Public Radio’s World of Opera program.
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, with the exception of those immediately following 9/11. Mr. Meena is a native of Los Angeles, and a graduate of the Carnegie Mellon University and Baldwin Wallace College Conservatory of Music. His conducting teachers included 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 served as an 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, for which he made his operatic debut conducting Die Zauberflöte. He made his professional debut 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.