James began his career in 2009 with English Touring Opera. He has since worked on the directing staff at the Metropolitan Opera, Royal Opera House, Salzburg Festival, Royal Danish Opera, National Theatre, Barbican, Edinburgh International Festival, English National Opera, Glyndebourne, and Opera North.

His productions encompass premieres of new and rediscovered pieces alongside works from the core repertoire. Directing includes La rondine (Opera North), Chérubin, Le docteur miracle (Royal Academy Opera), Figaros Bryllup (Kilden Teater-og Konserthus), Don Giovanni (British Youth Opera), L'elisir d'amore (Iford Arts), l'Ospedale (Aldeburgh / Wilton's Music Hall / Bury Court Opera), Mansfield Park (Opera South), and La belle Hélène (Blackheath Halls), which was nominated for an International Opera Award. James has also directed revivals for Opera North, Glyndebourne and English Touring Opera.

James' site-responsive stagings include the world-premiere of modern operatic triptych, Snow, set across three floors of the Bussey Building in Peckham, and the multimedia opera Beauty and the 7 Beasts, written by six different composer-librettist teams, which was premiered at Brixton Jamm in 2022. In 2012-2013 he was creative director of Opera di Peroni, an innovative performance campaign with GO Opera and electronic artist, Kwes, which presented opera in unconventional locations across the UK. From 2015-18 he directed four touring productions for Pop-Up Opera and his acclaimed 2016 staging of I Capuleti e i Montecchi for the company was filmed as part of the BBC / British Council's Shakespeare 400 celebrations.

James has considerable experience working with young artists. In addition to his work with BYO and RAM he has directed opera scenes for the Royal College of Music, the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and Trinity Laban. He is also a trustee of Opera South, a regional touring company that exists to provide performing opportunities for emerging artists.

As a translator, James has created new English versions of Donizetti's Rita and Chabrier's Une education manquée.