Los Angeles based director and designer James Darrah's collaborative focus through varied mediums has quickly led him to be recognized as "the newest discovery... a gifted young American director" (Chicago Tribune). He has crafted an unconventional and varied body of work that "injects real drama" (New York Times) into new theater and opera productions, installations, and events that become "once-in-a-lifetime experience[s]" (Opera News).
Recent projects include the acclaimed world premiere of Missy Mazzoli's operatic adaptation of Lars von Trier’s Breaking the Waves for Opera Philadelphia and the Prototype Festival in New York, a return to his annual residency with Opera Omaha, where he launched a production of Handel’s Semele in a co-production with Opera Philadelphia; direction and design for a music video for mezzo soprano Joyce DiDonato on her new album In War and Peace on Warner Classics/ Erato, his European directorial debut with Teatro Nacional de São Carlos in Lisbon, Portugal for new production of Gluck’s Iphigénie en Tauride; and an installment of San Francisco Symphony’s trailblazing SOUNDBOX series.
In January 2017, he continued his ongoing collaboration with conductor Michael Tilson Thomas as director of Mahler’s Das Klagende Lied in a new staged production for San Francisco Symphony. Other recent projects include the first two installments of his three year Pelleas Project based on Maeterlinck’s play Pelléas et Mélisande with Louis Langrée and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. In 2017, he will direct the Debussy opera in the final installment of the project as part of the grand re-opening of Cincinnati’s Music Hall in a new production, conducted by Langrée, in collaboration with Cincinnati Opera. He will also make his debut in Germany with a new production of Handel’s Alcina with Badisches Staatstheater Karlsruhe in 2018. In the same season, Darrah directs Kurt Weill’s The Threepenny Opera at Boston Lyric Opera. Darrah is the artistic director for the new annual spring ONE festival and artists’ residency as part of his ongoing collaboration with Opera Omaha and directs the professional world premiere of Proving Up by Missy Mazzoli in a co-commission with Opera Omaha and New York's Miller Theater in the festival’s first year.
Other past projects include Peter Grimes with the San Francisco Symphony and Michael Tilson Thomas, the world premiere production of Frank Zappa's infamous 200 Motels with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Esa-Pekka Salonen, a new Don Giovanni for the San Francisco Merola Opera Program, Don Giovanni and Cosí fan tutte with the Milwaukee Symphony with Edo de Waart, and his Lincoln Center directing debut with Handel's Radamisto for The Juilliard School, where he returned for a new production of Jonathan Dove’s Flight in Fall 2016. Darrah has also realized projects and operas in collaboration with Opera San Antonio, Bard SummerScape, The Theater @Boston Court, Hawaii Performing Arts Festival, SCA Project Gallery, The Broad Stage in Santa Monica, Santa Barbara Arts and Lectures, Chicago Opera Theater, and the Croatian National Theater.
He holds an MFA from the UCLA School of Theater, Film, and Television, where he was the recipient of the James Pendelton Foundation Grant and George Burns/Gracie Allen Directing Scholarship and studied with director Peter Kazaras. He continued studies with director Stephen Wadsworth at The Juilliard School in 2011. He has received the national Princess Grace Award in Theater, was a directing nominee in the 2015 International Opera Awards, and was named Musical America’s New Artist of the Month for December 2015. His production of Mazzoli’s Breaking the Waves was nominated for a 2016 International Opera Award for best world premiere. He has taught theater, acting and performance for the Adler Fellowship Program of San Francisco Opera, Cornish College of the Arts, California State University, Long Beach and the University of California, Los Angeles.