BRANDON — Barn Opera is getting a bigger barn.
“We were selling out all of our performances and people weren’t able to get tickets,” said Russ McColman, technical director for Barn Opera, a recently formed nonprofit under the auspices of the Compass Music and Arts Foundation. “It became obvious we just needed a bigger venue.”
Joshua Collier, artistic director of Barn Opera, said the group has been staging opera performances in a barn owned by the foundation for the past few years. The barn there can seat about 60. The new barn, just over the Sanderson Covered Bridge on Pearl Street, will be able to hold 120.
Collier said in a Friday interview that if all goes well, the new barn will be ready to host operas by May.
The project went before the town’s Development Review Board on Sept. 10. Collier said the DRB has yet to release a decision. Meanwhile there’s an Act 250 hearing scheduled for 7 p.m. Oct. 23 at Town Hall.
“It’s in need of some repair and maintenance,” said McColman. “What we’re trying to do is shore up the outside, which we certainly can do before we get our certificates and Act 250 and so on.”
The barn was once part of a dairy farm until the 1990s. It’s believed to have been built in the 1850s, and is in remarkably good condition, McColman said.
Collier said the barn, surrounding land and house across the street were all one property owned by Jim and Nancy Leary. He and McColman discovered it while looking for a bigger barn for Barn Opera.
“Josh and I looked at pretty much every barn from Pittsford to Leicester trying to find one that would fit,” McColman said. “It doesn’t get any more Vermont than this. You come across a covered bridge, and there it is.”
Collier said the Learys didn’t want to sell just the barn, so the entire property had to be purchased, except Barn Opera couldn’t pick up the house. Collier and his family, however, could. He was in the middle of moving in on Friday when he spoke to the Herald.
The whole property sold for $360,000, Collier said. It was worked out so that he bought the house for half that, while Barn Opera got the barn plus 10 acres for the other half. He said it’s convenient, as he doesn’t have to go far to tend the barn.
Next to the barn is a silo, which Collier and McColman plan to see cleaned up. Beside that is another barn structure with solar panels on the roof. These power the barn and house.
“Our permitting will allow us 28 days of public occupancy,” said Collier. “I imagine we’ll continue on doing four shows a year with two performances of each show. I imagine we’ll have some other events, but I don’t have information on just what those will be.”
McColman said Barn Opera isn’t intending to make a profit, but he and Collier think it will help improve Brandon’s fortunes by using the arts as an economic draw.
“This is strictly for the betterment of the community, for the betterment of Brandon, to bring this kind of entertainment, this kind of culture, to the town,” McColman said.
Collier said Barn Opera has drawn people to Brandon from overseas. One woman, from Ireland, was particularly enamored with the company. “She came here, she saw the show, was amazed and now has season tickets and plans her trips to the United States around our performances,” he said. “We’re bringing financial resources from New York, from Connecticut, from Montreal, into the town. They’re not just seeing the opera, either. They’re going to have dinner at the café, they’re going to stay at the bed and breakfast, they’re going to spend money here. This is not economic development for us personally, it’s for the town, and it grows the culture.”
More information about Barn Opera can be found at www.barnopera.com