James Meena



James Meena


James Meena, Opera Carolina’s General Director and Principal Conductor since 2000, consistently earns critical acclaim for his artistic vision, executive leadership, and dynamic presence on the podium.

In his 25-year tenure with Opera Carolina, he has elevated the company’s performance standards to those of a major regional theater, expanded the Education department by 100-fold, and, in the face of corporate and government funding cutbacks, generated twice the requisite private sector funding needed to meet the goals of the company. Early in his career in Charlotte, he established the company’s first endowment, which boasts assets of more than $ 3.5 million, and increased the annual budget from $ 1.2 million to $ 3.8 million.

His commitment to civic engagement has resulted in a more culturally diverse board of directors, resident performing company, and audience. Today, Opera Carolina’s average audience age is 48, with diversity statistics of 33% African-American, 38% Caucasian, 23% Latin-American, and 5% Asian-American.

As a musician, the breadth of his repertoire is represented by the traditional works of Mozart, Beethoven, Puccini, Berlioz, and Verdi. He most recently led the new production of Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte for four prestigious Italian theaters in Como, Brescia, Pavia and Cremona, Puccini’s Turandot in the historic amphitheaters of Taorimina and Sicarusa, Sicily, a double-bill of Rachmaninoff’s Aleko paired with Pagliacci, and La fanciulla del West both with the restored New York City Opera; La Fanciulla del West for five Italian theaters: Teatro di Giglio, Lucca, Teatro Verdi in Pisa, Teatro Alighieri di Ravenna, Teatro Pavarotti di Modena, and Teatro Goldoni di Livorno, plus several productions for Opera Carolina, Toledo Opera, and Opera Grand Rapids; a Gala concert with the Toledo Symphony Orchestra and Renee Fleming; Porgy & Bess with Margaret Island Open-Air Theatre in Budapest for their Summer Festival; Turandot with Tulsa Opera; and La bohème with the Puccini Festival in Torre del Lago, as well as La bohème with Opéra de Montréal and a Masterworks Concert with Memphis Symphony Orchestra.

The Charlotte performances of Margaret Garner were also recorded and broadcast over National Public Radio’s World of Opera. His Opera Carolina performances of Faust, Eugene Onegin, and Il trovatore have been broadcast over NPR World of Opera and 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.  

Mo. Meena was the lead producer and music director for Douglas Tappin’s I Dream, a new work created in 2018 for the 50th commemoration of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. For the project, he raised more than $3.5mil.  For 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 American opera, Margaret Garner, starring Denyce Graves in April 2006, The Passion of Mary Cardwell Dawson with Ms. Graves in 2024, Zach Redler’s The Falling and the Rising Derek Wang’s Scalia/Ginsburg.  

With extensive experience in opera, ballet, and symphonic music, Maestro Meena held principal and resident conducting posts with the Cleveland Ballet, Toledo Symphony, Opera Grand Rapids, 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. 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.

James 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. He has served as Assistant Conductor to Andre Previn, Gunther Schuller, Michael Tilson Thomas, Anton Guadagno, and Anton Coppola.

He was Associate Conductor of the Pittsburgh Opera for several seasons, 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.

In 1997 James Meena was awarded the Distinguished Alumni Award by his undergraduate alma mater for his commitment to visionary excellence and growth of cultural institutions.