Graced with excellent professional leadership, the company was next led by Dr. J. Richard Marshall from 1976 to 1982, who increased the company’s modest budget from $200,000 to more than $700,000. In 1981, the company performed the premiere of Robert Ward’s new opera Abelard and
Heloise and recorded the opera for South Carolina television. Bruce Chalmers was appointed General Director in 1982, and together with Board President Heinz Jaffe and Guild President Leslie Paliyenko elevated the company’s standards to equal those of other regional opera companies. During the 1985-86 season, director Chalmers programmed Carlisle Floyd’s new opera Willie Stark, which was premiered at HGO in 1981, directed by the composer (a South Carolina native) and conducted by Hal France. In 1988 he collaborated with the Mint Museum to present Verdi’s Aida as part of the museum’s exhibition of art from Ramesses’ tomb. The city was Egypt-crazed. Among the star performers presented by the Charlotte Opera during Chalmers’ tenure were Jerome Hines (Faust), Gary Lakes (Samson et Dalila), and John Reardon in Kiss Me, Kate.
In 1989, with new General Director James Wright at the helm, the Charlotte Opera rebranded itself Opera Carolina to serve the greater Charlotte community with excellent grand opera performances and education touring programs that today still reach an average of 17 counties in North Carolina each year. In 1992, Opera Carolina moved from Ovens Auditorium to the newly completed Belk Theater. The company expanded to three performances of each of its grand opera productions, including a new Sunday matinee.
With the new millennium, Opera Carolina welcomed Mo. James Meena as General Director & Principal Conductor. During his tenure, the company has presented eight regional premieres, and five new American operas, including Cold Sassy Tree and Susannah by Carlisle Floyd, Margaret Garner by Richard Danielpour and Toni Morrison, Rise for Freedom by Adolphus Hailstork and the new musical drama I Dream by Douglas Tappin about the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Opera Carolina performances of Margaret Garner, Faust and Il Trovatore were broadcast over NPR World of Opera, nationally syndicated to 92 stations and supported by Wells Fargo Private Bank.
As a founding member of Opera America, we take pride in our 71-year history of service to Greater Charlotte.