Neeme Kuningas began his formal education at Kilingi-Nõmme Secondary School, while studying the clarinet at music school and singing in the school’s rock-band. He finished secondary school in 1973 and won the first prize at the Young Singers Festival in the same year. After receiving his MA in singing from Tallinn State Conservatoire (the current Estonian Academy of Music and Theatre, Prof. Ludmilla Issakova) in 1979, he continued his studies at the Russian Theatre Academy (GITIS) under the guidance of Georgy Ansimov, Boris Pokrovsky and Yevgeni Akulov as an opera director. He graduated from GITIS in 1984 and in 1985 became resident stage director at the Estonian National Opera.
Neeme Kuningas has been the chief stage director of the Estonian National Opera in 1994–2010. Since 1999 he has worked extensively with young singers at the Opera Studio of Estonian Academy of Music and Theatre. His professional credits as a teacher and stage director also include opera studios at the Theater And Music College in Gothenburg, China Central Conservatoire in Beijing and the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki. He has sought to broaden the traditional opera audience by starting a schooling program “The Theatre Magic” for children and youngsters in 2000, and has created several performances for both children and youngsters as a librettist and stage director.
Neeme Kuningas’ subtle sense of dramaturgy has lead him to creating translations of opera, operetta and musical librettos, such as Contes d’Hoffmann, Le Nozze di Figaro, La Serva-Padrona, Gräfin Mariza, Kiss Me, Kate!, Fiddler On the Roof, Wiener Blut, La belle Hélène, Vox Humana, Der Schauspieldirector, Man of La Mancha, Love for Three Oranges etc.
Neeme Kuningas has staged over one hundred productions in the field of opera, operetta and musicals. He is an in-demand stage director who has worked regularly with the theatres in Russia, China, France, Germany, Lithuania, Finland, Sweden, Belarus and Norway. His productions have been shown in Germany (Der Freischütz 1996, Heilbronn), Russia (Eugene Onegin 2003, Moscow GITIS Studio Theatre 2003; La traviata 2010, Pskov; Carmen 2011, Pskov), Hungary (La traviata 2010, Bartok Festival Miscolc; Wallenberg 2010, Bartok Festival Miscolc), Sweden (La traviata 2001, Dalhalla Operafestival; Rigoletto 2007, Dalhalla Operafestival), Finland (Eugene Onegin 2013, Finnish National Opera Alminsali), Belarus (La traviata 2013, Belarus Bolshoi Opera and Ballett Theatre) and Turkey (Rigoletto 2012, Aspendos Festival).
Neeme Kuningas´ most recent highlights include the award-winning opera Wallenberg (co-directed with Dmitri Bertman) that won the artistic team the Cultural Prize of the Republic of Estonia 2007 for their outstanding work; Verdi’s Rigoletto in which he stresses the dramatic context of the opera, while being respectful of its conventions, and Wagner’s monumental music drama Tristan und Isolde.
Neeme Kuningas has great experience teaching singing actors for opera and musical and is a perfect mentor for young opera directors.
In February 2014 Neeme Kuningas was awarded by the President of Estonian Republic with The Order of the White Star (Estonian: Valgetähe teenetemärk, French: Ordre de l’Etoile Blanche).
From 2016 December Neeme Kuningas started as the Chief Producer of Krasnoyarsk State Opera and Ballet Theatre (Russia).