The New York Times, print and online Sept 7, 2017, Anthony Tommasini […] The conductor James Meena drew a surging, plush performance from the City Opera Orchestra … Mr. Meena and his players conveyed the work’s seamless structure and richness. […]

The Wall Street Journal, print and online Sept 7, 2017, Heidi Waleson […] the orchestra, which was conducted with attention to color and pace by James Meena… […]

Puccini, La fanciulla del West

New York City Opera & Opera Carolina

With Opera Carolina’s General Director and Principal Conductor James Meena on the podium, the task of upholding musical values in this production of Fidelio was entrusted to one of America’s ablest conductors of opera, one whose versatility reflects encyclopedic knowledge of repertory and trial-by-fire experience extending back to his formative engagements in Toledo and Pittsburgh.  A conductor who lacks exposure to all of the disparate ingredients that Beethoven combined in the score is at risk of being out to sea in the tempestuous waters of Fidelio, but in this performance Meena masterfully tamed the savage challenges of the music.

Beethoven, Fidelio

Opera Carolina

Meena . . . who has a background in opera, ballet and orchestral music, drew a highly popular, well-known work with Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony. The explosive, opening notes of its final movement caused many in the audience to jump in their seats, which always is fun to watch. Its whirling dervish of a conclusion brought a roar of approval and a standing ovation as well. It was well deserved for the finale.  Gorgeous woodwind playing and powerful brass passages marked the performance, which Meena led from memory, conducting with roundhouse gestures from his right hand and much less action from his left. Once out of the blocks, the opening movement was bold and stirring but not particularly flowing. One might say detached, occasionally to the point of choppy. The middle of the 45-minute symphony was serious music played with purpose. The scherzo, which is pizzicato front to back, was perky with 50 strings plucking away and billowy whenever the winds and brass joined in. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it witty, but it was alluring. The vigorous finale, a call and response, grabs you by the lapels and gives you a good shake. Friday’s audience enjoyed the fireworks.

Tchaikovsky, Symphony No. 4

Grand Rapids Symphony

Emotional thermostats in the Peristyle Friday night soared into the red zone during the Toledo Symphony Classics 5 concert, which focused on heat in its many forms. There was the heat of battle described in the opening work: Rossiniʼs Overture to The Siege of Corinth. Written early in the 1820s, when Greece was trying to overthrow Turkish rule, its political inspiration counters a tendency to pigeonhole the Italian composer for his many more lighthearted operas. Guest conductor James Meena raised the energy of the evening immediately during a crisp and forceful reading of the work. He then not only sustained but raised that intensity during a long and fascinating evening. The Toledo Museum of Artʼs stately hall was abuzz with a far larger and more age-diverse crowd. No doubt the higher occupancy was because of fans of singers in the massive choir used for Carl Orffʼs Carmina Burana, the final work. The entire performance of the Orff work was memorable, with fine balance between the orchestra and choirs. Meena pushed every tempo and demanded and got great clarity from the instrumentalists. The sum of its many, many parts emerged with impressive coherence, balance, and power.

Rossini, Orff

Toledo Symphony

When conductor James Meena asked the audience before Thursday’s performance of Verdi’s Otello to subscribe to Opera Carolina, I thought he was within his rights, mainly because I have never heard a dud performance from him. This is rarer in the podium than is admitted, particularly in opera where things fall apart more often than is admitted. Bluntly, we’ve got a good deal in Meena, considering his fleet Mozart, deft Rossini, and sumptuous Puccini. I was curious to hear how he would approach Otello, which to conduct is like weighing fire on a scale.



Opera Carolina

Convince, in primis, la lettura che il Maestro James Meena riesce ad imprimere a questo grande, quanto estremamente complesso capolavoro. La narrazione procede spedita alternando pagine dal ritmo brioso e vivace, ad altre dove a prevalere sono sonorità più attenuate ed appena abbozzate. I diversi piani di lettura dell’opera risaltano, inoltre, attraverso la scelta dei giusti colori orchestrali il cui accostamento mette in luce, di tempo in tempo, la differenziazione delle situazioni e degli ambienti che fanno da sfondo alle azioni dei protagonisti. Una prova ben bilanciata, quindi, che trova nel pregevole apporto della Orchestra dei Pomeriggi Musicali il supporto adeguato per servire al meglio le voci presenti in palcoscenico.

Marco Faverzani | Giorgio Panigati 6 Ottobre 2023 Cremona

Teatro Ponchielli, Cremona, Die Zauberflote

Il direttore James Meena non ha fallito un attacco ed ha concertato con indubbia perizia. Una maggiore speditezza ed una certa graffiante incisività, ad esempio nella scena del ritrovamento di Johnson e nella partita a poker, avrebbe senz’altro giovato al pathos della serata che a tratti ha latitato. L’Orchestra della Toscana ha suonato con lo stile che gli riconosciamo e questo lo abbiamo già detto. Ottima nella sezione a corde, leggerina in altre sue componenti. Ma ha fatto piacere constatare il ritrovamento di una forma che qualche mese fa pareva appannata, e la pulizia del suono nella ariosa dimensione del Goldoni era davvero gradevole. Molto meglio che in altre serate anche il coro del Festival Pucciniano istruito da Elena Pierini. Applausi copiosi (e non sempre appropriati: che senso abbia interrompere il flusso sonoro dopo Ch’ella mi creda e al termine del concertato della redenzione non si sa. Fortuna che il direttore è andato avanti) da parte di un pubblico non foltissimo.

Fulvio Venturi, Toscana eventi & news. 2018

Teatro Goldoni, La fanciulla del West

WQXR, Sept 7, 2017, David Patrick Stearns […] the City Opera had a solid foundation with an inspired, capable orchestra under James Meena, who kept the opera moving at a good clip with the kind of expressive precision that showed more clearly where Puccini was going with his characters. […]

Musical America, print and online Sept 8, 2017, John Yohalem […] James Meena drew all the opera’s sensuous redwood glamour from the City Opera Orchestra, the sense of open spaces rich with promise. […]

Parterre, online Sept 7, 2017, Christopher Corwin […] Conductor James Meena showed a sure and idiomatic touch. […]

Opera Lively, online magazine, April 29, 2017, by Luiz Gazzola

Maestro Meena and the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra were in great form tonight. My favorite element in La Fanciulla del West is the score, and it was phenomenally rendered by the pit. The orchestra sounded dense, rich, resonant, and agile.

The Charlotte Observer, print, April 26, 2017, by Philip Larrimore

Unlike so many conductors, Meena never takes Puccini’s magic for granted, or allows the details to be swamped even as he pushes the work forward. This production, done in tandem with the New York City Opera, will travel to five opera houses in Italy, ending in Puccini’s hometown, Lucca. This “Girl of the West” is worthy of that honor.

Against such odds, the City Opera had a solid foundation with an inspired, capable orchestra under James Meena, who kept the opera moving at a good clip with the kind of expressive precision that showed more clearly where Puccini was going with his characters. The orchestral writing is said to be Puccini’s best, and you got that from this performance. A truly well-rehearsed male chorus supplied vivid dramatic context. In contrast to the predominantly-indoor Met production, Ivan Stefanutti’s direction and design was basically realistic but had a rear wall that dissolved into outdoor scenes, showing the world outside the local saloon or Minnie’s mountainside cabin.

Sep 7, 2017 · by David Patrick Stearns

New York City Opera, La fanciulla del West

The orchestra and Maestro Meena were impeccable. Again, I like him very much as a person, but I swear that I’m being objective when I call him one of the best opera conductors in the nation. With James Meena holding the baton, there is never a volume problem. The orchestra supports the singers perfectly, soft and delicate when they
need to be given dynamic space, and then bursts into lively and energetic playing when that’s what is needed. No hiccups whatsoever. And when we remember that Maestro Meena never reads a score, but rather knows by memory the operas he conducts, his accuracy is uncanny. Both the orchestra and James Meena deserve, as usual, A++.

Luis Gazzola. Opera Lively, December 2012

Opera Carolina, Rigoletto