"Stage director James Robinson keeps it relentlessly interesting to watch throughout."
"The action moves fluidly and cinematically between the worlds of Old Emile, lost in anxious dementia, and Young Emile, as he rises in the world of boxing and then falls, the victim of arrogance…"
St Louis Today
American stage director James Robinson is Artistic Director at the Opera Theatre of St. Louis, where he has mounted productions including Chin’s Alice in Wonderland (American premiere), Ash’s The Golden Ticket (world premiere), Corigliano’s The Ghosts of Versailles (also presented at the Wexford Festival), and Adams’ The Death of Klinghoffer and Nixon in China (a production seen throughout the United States and Canada).
Robinson's new production of Porgy and Bess saw him make his debuts at English National Opera, Dutch National Opera and New York's Metropolitan Opera. The production received excellent reviews, with critics describing it as "timeless" and "brimming with life".
Elsewhere, Robinson has directed new productions for Houston Grand Opera (Lucia di Lammermoor, Giulio Cesare and Abduction from the Seraglio), San Francisco Opera (Norma, Il Trittico and L’Elisir d’amore) and the Canadian Opera Company (Norma, Elektra and Nixon in China). For the Santa Fe Opera, he has directed new productions of Capriccio, Così fan tutte and The Rake’s Progress, and numerous productions for the New York City Opera (La bohème, Hansel and Gretel and Il viaggio a Reims). His work has also been seen at the Australian Opera, the Washington Opera, the Los Angeles Opera, the Seattle Opera, the Royal Swedish Opera, the Dallas Opera, the Minnesota Opera and Chicago Opera Theater. Additionally, he has created productions for the London Symphony Orchestra (Bernstein’s Mass and Honegger’s Jeanne d’Arc au bûcher), the Hollywood Bowl (Amadeus), Carnegie Hall, and the Minnesota Orchestra.
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Porgy and Bess
Metropolitan Opera, September 2019
Credit the lead performers, but a substantial amount of the force of the performance came from the African-American chorus assembled by the Met for this production—not just their vibrant singing but the direction from James Robinson and the choreography for them and a small set of dancers, created by Camille A. Brown (both making their Met debuts). Catfish Row was full of life, from people going about their work and chores to gripping and visceral expression of charismatic Christianity at the moments of greatest sorrow and crisis. The village was not full of characters–it was full of genuine people.
George Grella, New York Classical Review, 24 September 2019
James Robinson’s production, which opened at English National Opera last year, embraced the period, presenting a stage thick with intertwined bodies in dingy clothes in tableaux reminiscent of American paintings of the 1920s and 1930s … But it was the vividness of the characterizations and the singing, through to the special chorus hired for the occasion, that made the evening. “Porgy and Bess” calls for a huge cast and an eye to detail, and a group of gifted singing artists brought the characters to life with dignity rather than shtick or condescension.
Anne Midgette, The Washington Post, 24 September 2019
The great success of James Robinson’s production is creating a sense of the community of Catfish Row, with singers and dancers busy and attentive on multiple levels of Michael Yeargan’s intricate unit set.
James Jorden, Observer, 24 September 2019
As directed by James Robinson and designed by Michael Yeargan, this production of “Porgy and Bess” features a rotating set that presents the Catfish Row tenement as a series of two story buildings with a central hub around which the people gather. The set up allows for the environment to be constantly populated and feel alive with people. As far as presentation goes, this production is probably everything a Met audience could ask for. It’s lively, colorful, literal, and features some strong choreography by Camille A. Brown throughout many choral numbers.
David Salazar, Operawire, 24 September 2019
Metropolitan Opera premieres James Robinson's lively production of The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess... Robinson's direction is brimming with life
David M Rice, Classical Source, 23 September 2019
The debate over whether it is a musical or an opera has surely been decided by now—but, if not, the sheer sonic grandeur of the Met’s new production (shared with the English National Opera and the Dutch National Opera), which opened the season on Monday, should do the trick. Additionally, the suggestion that the work traffics in racial stereotypes should be answered by the thoughtfulness of James Robinson’s staging, which portrays Catfish Row as a rich, complex community, bound together by common values and beset by struggles that can afflict any society. The splendid chorus inhabited the space as though its 60 members lived there. It sometimes felt a little crowded, but it was worth it for the opulence of their singing in the prayers, dirges and celebrations that are the tent poles of “Porgy.” Mr. Robinson’s detailed directing always made them seem like individuals rather than a mass.
Heidi Waleson, The Wall Street Journal, 24 September 2019
Fire Shut Up in My Bones
Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, June 2019
James Robinson’s brilliantly simple, evocative production, which uses vivid video projections and movable set pieces that evoke a house’s interiors.
Anthony Tommasini, New York Times, 16 June 2019
Relying on open spaces, dark lighting and movable set pieces, director James Robinson has allowed the ensemble to remain at the forefront throughout, giving viewers a heightened sense of urgency that enables them to fully convey the pain of Charles’ life while challenging gentrified notions of protection and family.
Rob Levy, ReviewSTL.com, 18 June 2019
The cast of all African-American performers is persuasively moving under the meticulous guidance of stage director James Robinson, whose pacing and cultivation of the ensemble’s strong voices keep this production both brisk and riveting as it compellingly tells Blow’s harrowing tale.
Mark Bretz, Ladue News, 20 June 2019
OTSL artistic director James Robinson shaped it brilliantly in his dual role as stage director and dramaturg.
Sarah Bryan Miller, St Louis Post-Dispatch, 16 June 2019
Porgy and Bess
English National Opera, October 2018
James Robinson’s staging is timeless but wholehearted and handsome. If you’re going to stage Gershwin’s opera, this is how to do it.
Erica Jeal, The Guardian, October 2018
The Met audience will undoubtedly love this spick-and-span Catfish Row and its (mostly) God-fearin’ dramatis personae, projected with loving detail by James Robinson, whose work we should see more often at the Coliseum. This is a slicker, more substantial spectacle than any of ENO’s semi-stagings of classic musicals, peopled by vivid actors who are also great singers. It’s just the kind of popular show to set tills a-ringing.
Hugh Canning, The Times, October 2018
James Robinson’s full-throttle production of Porgy and Bess steers the rocky boat of St Martin’s Lane home in splendid style... The folk of Catfish Row will never reach that promised land of which they sing so beautifully. But the Coliseum show carries us much closer to it than any of sawn-off, musical-style abridgement of Porgy and Bess ever could. Laden with vocal treasures, splendidly rigged out, and skippered on every deck with skill and dash, this is a boat that should not be missed.
Boyd Tonkin, The Arts Desk, October 2018
It’s traditional in the sense that director James Robinson and designer Michael Yeargan have not sought in any way to stylise the piece, or give it a political spin (after all, with its Grapes of Wrath undertones, it doesn’t need one); the pullulating waterfront tenements, the storms, the healing sun – everything has a vivid immediacy... The chorus comes together as a community in which every member has an allotted role, but Robinson’s direction has them playing together seamlessly, with even the children being without a shred of self-conscious stagyness... The fights, the murder, the funeral, the prayer-meetings – everything is hyper-real.
Michael Church, The Independent, October 2018
Opera Theatre of St Louis, May 2018
Opera Theatre St. Louis gives us an utterly flawless Regina…The master of this ship is stage director James Robinson. He does simply remarkable work--evoking such perfection from his singer/actors, his designers, everyone.
Steve Callahan, Broadway World, May 2018
'Regina’ may be a piece whose time has come, especially as presented here in James Robinson’s production, suggestive of the Southern locale and early-20th-century period, and performed by an exceptional cast
Anthony Tommasini, The New York Times, June 2018
Opera Theatre’s exhilarating first production of the opera, cogently directed by James Robinson and authoritatively conducted by Stephen Lord.
George Loomis, The Financial Times, June 2018 ★★★★★
Artistic director James Robinson brought out the family’s fraught dynamics effectively in ways both large and subtle.
Sarah Bryan Miller, The St. Louis Post Dispatch, May 2018