BY KATHERINE LAZARUS
BRANDON –– After two years in the making, Artistic Director Josh Collier is unveiling The Barn Opera House on Tuesday, Aug. 17, from 7:30-10:30 p.m. at a private showing that will fill the theater’s newly installed 110 seats.
The renovated barn will reverberate with Puccini’s political thriller “Tosca,” for which Collier will sing along with fellow performers Andrea Chinedu Nwoke, Miguel Angel Vasquez and pianist Felix Jarrar. Music Director Cailin Marcel Manson and Associate Director Nicholas Tocci have worked with Collier to create the show.
Along with the masterful opera, Collier is debuting a renovated barn located on Pearl Street that is 73 feet long, by 35 feet wide and that has “beautiful pine flooring, and an interior aesthetic that,” Collier says, “is absolutely breathtaking!”
The dimensions of the barn allow for two zones, the lobby/pre-show area, and the performance space. The lobby will be home to a bar serving only Brandon wine and beer, a reservations counter, and café tables for those audience members who arrive prior to the doors opening.
Large barn doors will be closed prior to the performance and opened on sliding rails once the audience is invited into the auditorium. The auditorium will hold 110 stationary upholstered theatre seats, the orchestra pit, as well as some backstage space for those performers not on stage.
“What I want people to know is that this is Brandon’s opera company and we welcome people from everywhere…I think the community of Brandon will and should feel a sense of ownership and pride when they see this,” said Collier, 34, who had performed opera locally through Brandon Music and The Compass Music and Arts Center for two years before launching a separate nonprofit for Barn Opera.
“Were it not for Brandon Music, I would not have had the thought to look for a bigger barn. With every space there are limitations and to be able to have those limitations gone is great,” he said, adding that the move into this new space is “a tremendous achievement for Barn Opera” praising the support from Brandon Music and Compass Art Center. “I owe a debt of gratitude to a lot of people,” he said.
BARN TO OPERA HOUSE
Collier bought the new home for Barn Opera in Oct. 2019.He said he was able to afford the roughly $200,000 cost of the barns and land through 11 local donors, along with about half again as much in renovations.
Collier got the ball rolling on May 9, 2020 with his Act 250 permit, after which Collier, Technical Director Russ McColman, Tocci, and independent contractor Chris Rantanen, started taking out the hay from the barn and getting construction underway — until the pandemic stopped their progress.
“It was a real disappointment, but we knew we needed to stop,” said Collier, who took up where he left off six months ago with McColman, Tocci, Rantanen, and help from community supporters, including Trisha and Norm Welch and Catherine Orellana, all of Brandon.
They cleaned the nearly 200-year-old wooden floors and sides, permanently installed 110 seats, built the lobby space with locally milled lumber from Gagnon Lumber in Pittsford; affixed a portable-style restroom from Dundon Plumbing in Orwell that blends into the barn and that Dundon’s can clean out after each performance for zero impact on the environment; and created an area for a cash bar with local beer and wine.
“Being intimately involved in the construction of this place from the very beginning is really something,” said Collier, who lives across the street with his wife, Hillary, 35, also a singer, and their two girls Chloe, 2, and Liliana, 5.
“I remember every little screw, every piece of wood, every challenge, everything. It’s a really cool thing to have this for the Brandon community, for Vermont and the region in general. There are details inside the theater that do not exist anywhere else.”
The 10 acres of property also has a second, smaller barn that will be used as a dressing room in conjunction with The Barn Opera House, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit.
Aug. 17 is a private opening specifically for, as Collier said, “the major donors, all the board members of Compass Music and Barn Opera, and the people who have been around and made this possible.”
There will also be public performances on Aug. 18 at the Isham Family Farm in Williston and on Aug. 20-21 at the Barn Opera House in Brandon, a surprise for people who bought tickets when they thought they were seeing “Tosca” outside at Cedar Meadow in Castleton on Aug. 20 and at Estabrook Park on Aug. 21. Those performances have moved inside the barn as an added benefit to patrons.
“Those who have supported us need to benefit,” Collier said. “They were willing to support us when we were outside and now, they can be the first people inside the barn.”
The performances for “Tosca” will be accompanied by piano music. “We’re trying to bring high quality performances to a space and introduce people to an art form that maybe they haven’t had the opportunity to experience,” Collier said, adding that their operas, above all, would be “accessible.”
The private opening, that includes a post-performance champagne toast, will be the first time audience members set eyes on the inside of the newly renovated barn, an intentional choice, said Collier, who loves creating dramatic events.
“I want there to be audible gasps throughout Rutland County when people walk in,” he said.