Oct 19, 2015 - News

The opera in Charlotte: Best mother-daughter date night, ever

I took my mother to the Charlotte Opera on Saturday night.


My mother is turning 70 soon so we decided to have a girls’ night out while she was in town. This wasn’t just any girls’ night, though. We were invited to join a generous group of Charlotteans who support the Charlotte Opera for a private “Dinner with the Maestro,” and then we sat for a modernized version of the German Opera Fidelio, composed by Ludwig von Beethoven – his one and only opera. This night will go down as one of my favorite date-nights in Charlotte.

I know I’m sharing one of Charlotte’s best-kept secrets, but so be it. The experience was too fabulous not to praise.

Maestro James Meena

The “Dinner with the Maestro” events are held prior to each of the four operas held annually in Charlotte. Past dinners have been held at local restaurants like the Ritz’s BLT or fancy rooms with cityscape views on the top floors of the Bank of America building. Last night’s dinner was at Luce, a fabulous Italian fine dining restaurant with impeccable service complemented by warm murano lights, venetian plaster walls and travertine floors.


During the dinners, Maestro (Mo) James Meena, the general director and principal conductor of Opera Carolina, makes an effort to personally greet the 80-100 guests in the room. He seems to know something important about each person. Such gracious hospitality is surely unmatched by his peers across the nation. His critical acclaim and dynamic presence on the podium may help explain how he has helped to put a personal touch on his efforts to grow Opera Carolina into a globally recognized brand.

While the guests enjoyed dinner, Mo Meena continues to navigate nimbly throughout the room while explaining the context and history of the evening’s opera. He helped participants understand the mindset of the composer during the time the opera was written; he conveyed that all composers are influenced by the political, social and economic climate of their times.


In Beethoven’s original 1805 script and score for Fidelio, a young woman in 16 century Spain disguises herself as a male prison guard named “Fidelio” and ostensibly infiltrates the prison in order to rescue her husband from his wrongful imprisonment and a death threat from an abusive warden. The story is one of risk, personal sacrifice, heartache, and the struggle for human rights. The underlying tones of the struggle for liberty and justice mirrored contemporary political movements in Europe at the time.

For this particular opera rendition of Fidelio, however, Mo Meena shared that his team had selected a modernized version, set in the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall. As such, Meena shared with our captivated group how the modern version of the opera reflected similar social upheaval, and the struggle for justice and change in a divided Germany in the 80s.  One beauty of opera is the timelessness of the frequently associated themes — struggles for liberty, justice, and most often, love. (If you want to know how the story ends, get your tickets now for the next show on October 22) I will share this, though. The restoration of concepts of the need to respect human dignity and freedom gives one comfort and courage in a time when social upheaval on cultural fault lines across the globe seems the norm.

Fidelio is not a typical opera in the sense one is accustomed to, but regardless of the language in which it was composed or the modern stage setting, it maintains the universal appeal ensconced in so many operas: It appeals to the conscience for justice and it was a moving tale of undying love that glimmers through the darkness of oppression and finds renewed love once liberated from government overreach and abuse.

Charlotte may not be known (yet) as a mecca for arts and culture, but if you know where to look, you’ll find some of the nation’s pearls right uptown. And who knows, you might even feel like you’ve had your cake, and a history and social justice lesson, too. Happy birthday, mom!


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