A Vibrant History. A Meaningful Mission.

A Letter From the Artistic Director

A Letter From the Artistic Director

For seventy-three years, Opera Carolina has served this region with excellence in our Grand Opera performances, in our schools and throughout the community. Our commitment to enriching the lives of citizens from all walks of life is deeply rooted in the history of our company – and it’s a commitment we take seriously.

In the early decades of Opera Carolina (begun as the Charlotte Opera), volunteers designed the sets, built costumes, sang in the chorus, filled leading roles and, of course, sold tickets and held fundraisers to support the company.


Now a fully professional company with an international footprint that produces Opera performances and education programs at the highest level, we never forget the legacy of the original volunteers who made this company the outstanding community resource it has become today.

Opera Carolina is rooted in the Carolinas – 90% of our company live and work right here in our region, complementing the international artists who join the resident company to perform on our mainstage. This is our home, and we view our role in this community as a public trust that demands we be transformative, creative and committed to excellence – just as our first volunteers were.

Artistic Director

About Opera Carolina

Founded in 1948 by the Charlotte Music Club as the Charlotte Opera, Opera Carolina is the largest opera company in the Carolinas; annually serving more than 65,000 people in North Carolina, South Carolina and Northern Georgia (excluding broadcasts); reaching an average of seventeen counties in the Carolinas each year through its Education & Community programs.

The company has a long history of excellent professional leadership including Artistic Directors Richard Marshall, Henry Janiec and Charles Rosekrans, and General Directors Bruce Chalmers and James Wright. Currently under the leadership of James Meena, Opera Carolina has nearly doubled in size, and each season produces three main stage productions as well as an extensive array of educational programs, and the Opera Unlimited community performance and program series.

Early Beginnings

The newspaper article in 1948 unassuming announced that folks in Charlotte were holding auditions to start an opera company. The dynamic new volunteer group was headed by Mrs. Dorothy Allen, President and Mrs. Herbert Carson who raised funds and handled publicity.

With a budget of $150, the volunteer chorus made their own costumes, put together sets, garnered furnishings from around town. The Charlotte Opera premiered in 1948 with an English version of Johann Strauss’ Die Fledermaus called “Rosalinda”, directed by Clifford Bair and conducted by Guy Hutchins at the Piedmont Junior High School.

Word spread and people started to come to Charlotte from neighboring towns. The all-volunteer troupe was adventurous from the beginning, presenting an array of performances in English at the East Mecklenburg High School, including The Bartered Bride, The Tales of Hoffmann, Blennerhasset, Sunday Costs Five Pesos, Martha, The Chocolate Soldier, as well as popular La Traviata, The Marriage of Figaro and The Daughter of the Regiment.

In 1955, under the volunteer leadership of Mary Henderson, the growing company moved to the 2,400 seat Ovens Auditorium, which was to be the company’s home for 35 years. Now the Charlotte Opera Association, the company’s star ascended with the hiring of Mo. Henry Janiec as Music Director and John Richards McCrae as Director. Two years later, Mo. Janiec was appointed Music Director of the Charlotte Symphony, as well as Music Director of the Brevard Music Festival, setting an upward trajectory for the Opera and Symphony that would endure for his 11-year tenure.

In 1971 the company hired Charles Rosekrans as General Director. Mo. Rosekrans had been a guest conductor for the Charlotte Opera in the late 60’s. The company continued to grow as a professional opera company, programming major works like Un ballo in Maschera and Aida with acclaimed artists like Gilda Cruz-Romo, Rosalind Elias and Vernon Hartman alongside the Opera Chorus and Chorus.

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.

Board of Directors

Opera Carolina is governed by a 40-member board of directors, consisting of working professionals, arts advocates and city leaders. The Board is an indispensable asset in guiding Opera Carolina’s operations and performances. Meet the Board:

  • Officers
  • Board Members
  • Ex Officio
  • Endowment Board of Directors

Join the Cast!

Experience the excitement of the Opera from on stage! Become a part of Opera Carolina’s unique and engaging productions by joining the Opera Carolina Chorus Association or the cast of Supernumeraries.

Auditions are held as needed. Please check this page for announcements regarding current audition postings.

Employment opportunities are also announced on this page. It is the policy of Opera Carolina not to discriminate on the basis of sex, race, age, creed, religion, national origin, disability status, veteran status or sexual orientation in its education programs, activities or employment practices.


James Meena
Artistic Director
Opera Carolina
1600 Elizabeth Avenue
Charlotte, NC 28204

Additional Information

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