Working in classical music at the convergence of opera, theater, and film, Los Angeles based artist JAMES DARRAH brings together disparate creators and mediums for community-focused collaborations that pair narrative heft and intimate character studies with abstracted, enigmatic realizations of place.
His multifaceted work as a director, designer, and artistic/ creative director has quickly led him to be recognized as “a gifted young American director” (Chicago Tribune), with an unconventional body of directing, design and curatorial work that “injects real drama” (New York Times) into new theater and opera productions, films, special events, installations, and music videos. He is currently the artistic director of the ONE Festival, a new artist and team-driven performance series and first-of-its-kind creative residency with Opera Omaha. In its April 2018 debut, the ONE Festival was hailed for work that “expands the boundaries of the [operatic] form with artist-led events” (The Wall Street Journal).
CURRENT PROJECTS include directing multiple world premiere operas with several leading composers of new music as well as an evolving focus on the aesthetic possibilities of opera within art film. This year, he directs the premiere of a new production of Missy Mazzoli and Royce Vavrek’s latest opera Proving Up in the ONE Festival before later directing the show’s New York premiere at the Miller Theater in the fall of 2018. He will also premiere Missy Mazzoli’s Grammy Award nominated VESPERS, a music film featuring Olivia DePrato on solo violin for NPR’s First Watch that makes its live debut with Jennifer Koh on violin at National Sawdust in Brooklyn. This marks the latest work in an ongoing collaboration that began in 2016, when Darrah directed the world premiere of Mazzoli and Vavrek’s acclaimed operatic adaptation of Lars Von Trier’s Breaking the Waves with Opera Philadelphia and the work’s New York premiere with the Prototype Festival in 2017. The opera was subsequently nominated for Best World Premiere at the 2016 International Opera Awards, and won Best New Opera for 2016 from the Music Critics Association of North America.
With composer Ellen Reid, he directs the world premiere of her new opera Prism for his LA Opera debut and the Prototype Festival. With composer Jennifer Higdon, he crafts a new production of her first opera Cold Mountain with Daniela Candillari conducting as part of an ongoing residency with Music Academy of the West. Also this season he premieres a new music video with countertenor Jakub Jozef Orlinski for his album Anima Sacra on Warner Classics, returns to Badisches Staatstheater Karlsruhe where his production of Handel’s Alcina is revived for the 2019 International Handel Festspiele, directs a new production of Philip Glass’ Les Enfants Terribles for the Opera Omaha ONE Festival 2019, develops Hecate House, a new play by Christopher Adams Cohen in Berlin, and directs La voix humaine, crafted into an original short film with Opera Philadelphia.
OTHER RECENT PROJECTS include directing The Threepenny Opera in his debut with Boston Lyric Opera, direction and design for a short film with mezzo soprano Joyce DiDonato on her new album In War and Peace on Warner Classics/ Erato, and Le nozze di Figaro with conductor James Conlon at the Music Academy of the West. He directs the Bernstein Centennial celebration concert at Tanglewood with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Michael Tilson Thomas and Andris Nelsons, and crafts a new staging of Boris Godunov as part of his continued creative work with Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony.
Darrah has collaborated with several leading conductors of classical and new music, including over seven new productions with Michael Tilson Thomas (incl. Peter Grimes, On the Town) as well as projects with Esa-Pekka Salonen, Edo de Waart, Louis Langrée, John Adams, Andreas Spering, Speranza Scappucci, David Angus and Stephen Stubbs. He trained with directors Peter Kazaras, Stephen Wadsworth, and Christopher Alden. He has created original projects, theater pieces and new productions of operas with the SF Symphony’s SOUNDBOX, Cincinnati Symphony and Cincinnati Opera (Pelléas et Mélisande trilogy) Teatro Nacional de São Carlos (Iphigénie en Tauride) , The 12th Night Festival (New York), Los Angeles Philharmonic (Recital for Cathy, Zappa’s 200 Motels), Opera Omaha, Opera San Antonio, Bard SummerScape (Mascagni’s Iris), The Theater @Boston Court, Merola Opera Program, Hawaii Performing Arts Festival, Pacific Musicworks, SCA Project Gallery, The Juilliard School at Lincoln Center, The Broad Stage-Santa Monica, Santa Barbara Arts and Lectures, Music Academy of the West, Chicago Opera Theater, and the Croatian National Theater.
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, and was named Musical America’s New Artist of the Month for December 2015. He is a graduate of the UCLA School of Theater, Film, and Television where he received the George Burns/Gracie Allen Directing Scholarship. He currently teaches opera performance at UCLA’s Herb Alpert School of Music and has also taught acting and performance for the Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara, Cornish College of the Arts, California State University, Long Beach, and the Adler Fellowship Program of San Francisco Opera.