Opera Carolina was founded in 1948 by the Charlotte Music Club. First known as the Carolina Opera, it operated on a shoestring budget of $125. Volunteers built sets, sewed costumes, rehearsed, and sang leading roles. Since then, the company has become one of the largest opera companies in the Carolinas with an operating budget of about $3 million. Support provided by corporate and foundation sponsors, private donors, and institutional support from the State of North Carolina and the Arts and Science Council, plus the three major events the Opera holds has allowed the company to grow and celebrate its 65th anniversary.
With a 40 member Board of Directors committed to the success of the company, and Maestro James Meena, General Director and Principal Conductor of Opera Carolina at the helm, the mission of Opera Carolina succeeds at enriching the community through the presentation of excellence in Opera and Arts Education. Having studied conducting with Robert Page, professor at Carnegie Mellon University, as well as with Thomas Mihalak, Music Director of the New Jersey Symphony, Rudolph Fellner, and Boris Halip, former conductor of the Bolshoi Ballet, Meenas resume speaks for itself.
Attending the Opera is very different than when going to see a Broadway play or movie. There is a synthesis, says Meena of singing, drama, symphonic music and theatrical spectacles unmatched in western culture. An extensive programming plan takes place 18-24 months in advance. The Board of Directors Artistic Committee reviews the recommendations made by management and decides which operas to perform. The evaluation process is then based on the availability of principal guest artists, physical productions, box office potential, overall cost, and repetition of popular titles.
The seasons productions must captivate the audience. The average length of an opera is about 2 hours 45 minutes with one intermission. Productions are huge. Typically, there are about 150 people on and off-stage. Aida requires 200 to 250 singers, orchestra musicians, dancers, extras, artisans, and technicians. A great deal of planning takes place. The resident company begins rehearsal about five weeks before production. The principal guest artists arrive three weeks before opening night which is followed by intense rehearsal schedules needed to present a grand opera. And, because many operas are written and performed in a foreign language, the Opera Carolina uses projected English titles to mitigate the language barrier.
The end result is a season that features three main stage grand operas at the Belk Theater, plus community programming in regional churches, and an extensive array of educational programs. It takes a great deal of hard work, but thanks to the Charlotte community, they have fully embraced the Opera as a valued and unique part of the cultural landscape of the region. The audience is supportive and enthusiastic. Comprised of people from across the community, of all races and socio-economic backgrounds, and made up of all ages but with a new surge of 25-35 year olds, the future of the company bodes well. Charlotte can proudly boast that she has one of the oldest and most successful professional opera companies proving the communitys commitment to quality cultural programming.
To learn more about the Opera and to purchase tickets or donate, go to www.operacarolina.org or call 704.332.7177.