BRANDON — While the pandemic has canceled what would have been Barn Opera’s inaugural season, Joshua Collier and 57 other artists from across the world aren’t taking a time-out.
Collier, Barn Opera artistic director, said Friday that he and the others involved have recorded six full operas that will be available online with the first, Don Giovanni by Mozart, going up Aug. 22.
Prior to the pandemic, Barn Opera had been granted its town and state permits to run shows out of a renovated barn on Pearl Street. The COVID-19 pandemic came along shortly after, forcing the planned shows to be canceled.
“It actually opened up a really interesting possibility for me to be able to work with people that I hadn’t worked with in a long time, colleagues I hadn’t interacted with and also to give people opportunities to learn music as things were continuing to go on,” said Collier.
He was inspired to create Social Distance Opera after speaking to a fellow artist whose career in the opera scene was in the process of taking off prior to the pandemic. Collier said the pandemic has hit many in the arts community hard.
It was only going to be one opera at first.
“Then the opera world got wind of what I was doing and I got trillions of messages from people I never would have expected,” he said.
Recording a full opera isn’t as simple as it sounds, not when the participants aren’t in the same room. Opera, Collier said, requires a high-degree of precision.
“Even though it sounds like they are in the room together, no one was in the room together,” he said.
The full schedule and future announcements will be posted to socialdistanceopera.com, said Collier. Prior to each opera being uploaded those involved will be given access to Social Distance Opera’s social media accounts to promote it. They’ve all recorded introductions, he said, and before each show there will be a Zoom meeting during which people can chat with the singers and musicians.
Among the operas recorded is Suor Angelica, which was played on piano by Annemieke McLane, of Sharon.
It was the last performance that piano ever recorded.
McLane said Friday that earlier this week her house in Sharon caught fire while she, her husband, Jeremiah, and 7-year-old son Luke were away in Maine. It was a total loss.
“All instruments, all sheet music, everything,” she said.
She spent the better part of May recording 208 pages of sheet music for the Social Distance Opera.
“That same piano has also recorded the senior recitals for students in Middlebury College, so all those kids have a special recording,” she said.
The piano, an Ibach built in 1920, had been owned by McLane for the past 25 years. She got it when she was in her 20s while living in the Netherlands.
“When I moved from the Netherlands I sold everything I had to be able to move my piano overseas,” she said. “That piano has been with me my whole life, basically.”
She had its hammers replaced last year.
“It was in really good shape. It had a very warm, sweet sound, never aggressive,” she said.
She’s pleased it was involved with Social Distance Opera.
“I think what Josh is doing is pretty unique because he has a cast from all different nationalities involved,” she said. ‘I decided to do it because I heard how passionate he is about keeping music alive, and with the pandemic singers need to keep singing.”
Julia Radosz, a United States native living in Slovakia, said Friday she believes Collier and those at Barn Opera are the first to take online opera to this level.
“Everyone is doing collaborations but not at this scale,” she said.
She said singing opera this way lets her be more analytical about her performance.
“Then there’s the whole coordinating without a conductor, that is very challenging,” she said.
Collier said while he likes how this is coming together, he hopes it doesn’t have to happen again.
“Someone asked me, do you think the Social Distance Opera would be a long-lasting thing, and my response to that, even though I created it, is I sure as Hell hope not,” he said, adding that while it’s not unusual for a performer to drop out of a show because of a family illness, for this run he’s already lost 13 performers who’d lost a family member to COVID-19.
“What I hope is that 20 years from now people can look back and say they did something during this time, they tried, they moved the conversation forward,” he said. “It’s a memorial to music in the time of COVID.”