5 Questions to James Darrah

James Darrah
I Care If You Listen

When it comes to the words “trailblazing” and “influential” in terms of directing new opera, James Darrah‘s name is never far. Darrah is spree-like directing the new theatre and opera world’s most talked about productions. From Missy Mazzoli’s operatic adaptation of Lars von Trier’s Breaking the Waves for Opera Philadelphia and the Prototype Festival in New York to the direction and design for a music video for mezzo soprano Joyce DiDonato on her new album In War and Peace on Warner Classics/ Erato, Darrah is creating the look and feel of new opera for a generation of opera-goers.

Darrah is also focusing his creative energy, as artistic director, on the upcoming ONE festival and artists’ residency as part of his ongoing collaboration with Opera Omaha where he directs a new production of Proving Up by Missy Mazzoli in a co-commission with Washington National Opera, Opera Omaha, and New York’s Miller Theater. Taking place April 6th-22nd, 2018 in Omaha, Nebraska, the ONE festival includes over fifty multi-disciplinary performances, installations, conversations and explorations. This festival marks Opera Omaha’s continuing realization of becoming a beacon for community building, non-traditional venues, contemporary opera/performance – along with standard repertory not only to other presenting organizations in the Midwest but with the movers and shakers in the contemporary opera scene across the country.

In truth, the AD position and the festival as a whole grew out of the work we were all doing in Omaha already. My debut with the company was after Roger Weitz became the Opera Omaha General Director. We had worked together when Brian Dickie had given me my first productions with Chicago Opera Theater and Weitz was then the General Manager. His proposal to me in 2014 was what a young director always dreams of hearing: come up with titles and casts that interest you, delve into some repertoire that is exciting for the company but also for your team of designers, and work to create an annual new production together. It wasn’t possible to resist such an invitation.

We started with a new production of Handel’s Agrippina in 2014, and the result grew into an annual residency of sorts…a period of time where we gathered singers, designers, and artists together (often people I was meeting in other projects in other cities that I wanted to collaborate with) to delve into making a new piece. It wasn’t much different from operatic business-as-usual at first, but I think that the city itself has some interesting artistic energy and resources that enabled the work and our time in the city to expand and take on a new life.

I noticed after two years of projects in Omaha that I had a closer relationship with key people on the board, supporters—donor functions even felt more like dinner with a friend than I was accustomed to. I ran an artist collective/company called Chromatic with Peabody Southwell from 2014-2016 that was a collective of 11 artists. Our first three productions with Opera Omaha were Chromatic’s formative years and helped establish Omaha as an artists’ residency. What started as an insular group of like-minded artists (scenic designers, costume designers, singers, dancers, etc.) worked well for a trilogy of productions. Southwell and I eventually dissolved Chromatic and moved on from the idea of an inward focused “collective,” and I have since tried to broaden the creative focus and creative family for Opera Omaha with Roger Weitz. I’m interested in Omaha being a place for collaboration, new and emerging artists of all mediums. Other art forms have artist residencies—why shouldn’t opera?
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