Director and designer James Darrah’s visually and emotionally arresting work at the intersection of theater, opera and film is currently in demand all over the world. His productions of opera, theater, music videos, film, and installations are known for their cinematic elegance, abstract yet visceral staging, and a multidisciplinary merging of narrative heft, innovative design, and dance that “injects real drama” (The New York Times).
Current projects include new films, debuts and productions that continue to blur the lines between film, visual art and opera. Amid production cancelations and the pandemic-related shutdown, Darrah has generated a wide range of new work for the digital space and helped organizations transform existing productions into viable projects that allow for remote collaboration between artists and designers across multiple mediums. This season he devises and directs two projects with Boston Lyric Opera: a new animated adaptation of Philip Glass’ The Fall of the House of Usher and the world premiere of desert in, a new episodic operatic television series with Darrah as director and co-creator in collaboration with composer Ellen Reid and writer Christopher Oscar Peña.
With Opera Philadelphia, Darrah returns in 2020 to help executive produce and design a new Soldier Songs by David T. Little, directed by and starring Jonathan McCullough, and is in post-production for his new film of Poulenc’s La voix humaine. Upcoming projects include a new music video for LA Opera’s Digital Shorts series and his LA Opera mainstage debut with the Los Angeles premiere of Missy Mazzoli’s operatic adaptation of Lars Von Trier’s Breaking the Waves. In March 2021, he makes his Long Beach Opera debut with an outdoor re-imagining of his own production of Glass’ Les enfants terribles, and in the summer directs the world premiere of The Lord of Cries by Academy Award-winning composer John Corigliano and librettist Mark Adamo in his Santa Fe Opera debut.
Recent highlights this past season included debuts and new productions with The Kennedy Center, Theater an der Wien, Prototype Festival in New York and Theatro Nacional São Paolo in Brazil as well as an original art installation with composer Ellen Reid and LA Opera. Postponed projects due to the global pandemic include a new production of Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman with Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony and Frank Gehry designing as well as the Chicago Lyric Opera premiere of Mazzoli’s Proving Up, both to be rescheduled for future seasons.
His track record developing and directing acclaimed productions of new operas includes the world premieres of Reid’s Pulitzer Prize-winning p r i s m and Missy Mazzoli’s acclaimed Breaking the Waves and Proving Up, the New York premiere of Julian Wachner’s Rev23 in the Prototype Festival, Philip Glass’ Les enfants terribles and the lauded U.S. West Coast premiere of Jennifer Higdon’s Cold Mountain. Darrah has also crafted music videos with “enigmatic twists” (NPR) for artists including Joyce DiDonato and Jakub Józef Orlinski on the Warner Music and Erato record label, and he directed and produced a video for Mazzoli’s Grammy Award nominated VESPERS. He is currently in development for the world premiere of Dante with composer Patrick Cassidy and film producer Martha De Laurentiis, an expansion of Cassidy’s popular aria “Vide Cor Meum” originally written for the 2001 film Hannibal.
Darrah is currently Artistic Director of Opera Omaha’s ONE Festival, where he is “expanding the boundaries of the operatic form” (The Wall Street Journal) by framing opera in a context that is both inclusive and relevant while establishing a first of its kind operatic artist residency for artists in the genre. He is also committed to training the next generation of performers, joining the UCLA Faculty of the Herb Alpert School of Music and School of Theater, Film and Television in 2019 and was named the new Creative Director of Music Academy of the West’s Vocal Institute in 2018. He was co-artistic director/co-founder of Chromatic, a new collective of artists and production company in Los Angeles from 2013-2016 and has made additional work with Boston Lyric Opera, Badisches Staatstheater Karlsruhe, The International Handel Festspiele, Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Cincinnati Opera, San Francisco Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Getty Villa Museum in Malibu, Salle Playel in Paris, Barbican Centre, Sun Valley Music Festival, Kaufman Music Center, Bard Summerscape and Fisher Center for the Performing Arts, Merola/ San Francisco Opera, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Tanglewood Music Festival, Pacific Musicworks, Bemis Center for Contemporary Art, The Union for Contemporary Art, Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, and Teatro Nacional de São Carlos in Lisbon.
He holds an MFA in Theater, Film and Television from UCLA and later continued studies with Stephen Wadsworth at The Juilliard School. He has received the national Princess Grace Award in Theater, the James Pendelton Foundation Grant, was a directing nominee in the 2015 International Opera Awards, has led world premieres of two operas to win “Best New Opera” awards from Music Critics Association of North America and was named Musical America’s New Artist of the Month for December 2015.
He is a native of San Antonio, Texas and lives in Los Angeles, California.