Director and designer James Darrah’s visually and emotionally arresting work at the intersection of theater, opera and film is currently in demand in venues all over the world. His productions of operas, theater, music videos, film, and installations are known for their elegance with virtuosic and visceral “striking [work] that injects real drama” (The New York Times) merging innovative design with unexpected movement, narrative heft, and dance.
Current projects include debuts and new productions with The Kennedy Center, Theater an der Wien, The Santa Fe Opera, and Theatro Nacional São Paolo in Brazil. In 2020 he also creates an original art installation with Reid, filmmaker Adam Larsen and LA Opera and continues collaborations with Beth Morrison Projects, Opera Omaha, and Opera Philadelphia as well as Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony where he will direct a new production of Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman with Tilson Thomas conducting and Frank Gehry designing. He is also currently in development for the new opera Dante with composer Patrick Cassidy and film producer Martha De Laurentiis, an expansion of Cassidy’s aria “Vide Cor Meum”, originally written for the 2001 film Hannibal. Recent highlights include developing and directing acclaimed productions of new operas including the world premieres of Ellen Reid’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Prism and Missy Mazzoli’s Breaking the Waves and Proving Up, the New York premiere of Julian Wachner’s Rev23 in addition to Philip Glass’ Les enfants terribles and the U.S. West Coast premiere of Jennifer Higdon’s Cold Mountain. Darrah has crafted music videos with “enigmatic twists” (NPR) for artists including Joyce DiDonato and Jakub Józef Orlinski on the Warner Music label, and produced a video for Mazzoli’s Grammy-nominated VESPERS.
Darrah is artistic director of the 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 myriad artists in the genre. He is also committed to training the next generation of singer and performer, joining the UCLA Faculty of the Herb Alpert School of Music and was named the new Creative Director of Music Academy of the West’s Vocal Institute, where he has brought new productions of works and residencies from contemporary composers Higdon, Mazzoli, Reid and Jonathan Dove and Kaija Saariaho.
Following his professional debut with Chicago Opera Theater, he has created work with Boston Lyric Opera, Badisches Staatstheater Karlsruhe, The International Handel Festspiele, Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and Cincinnati Opera, Los Angeles Opera, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Getty Villa Museum in Malibu, Salle Playel in Paris, Barbican Centre, 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 Sao Carlos in Lisbon. He was co-artistic director/founder of Chromatic, a new collective of artists and production company in Los Angeles from 2014-2016, completed an MFA in Theater, Film and Television at 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” from Music Critics Association of North America and was named Musical America’s New Artist of the Month for December 2015. He was born in San Antonio, Texas and currently lives in Los Angeles, California.