Lowe Down

Tenor Joshua Collier, founder and artistic director of Barn Opera, at Brandon Music, where the company’s production of “The Barber of Seville” will be presented Feb. 15 and 16.

“What happens when Rosina, the assistant of rich Dr. Bartolo — who is in love with her, and who she wants nothing to do with — goes on a ski vacation with him, and encounters a world-famous celebrity, “Conte,” who, with the help of his friend, the wily concierge Figaro, tries to woo her away from Bartolo?

Hysterical games of cat and mouse, mistaken identities, and hijinks ensue, while snow falls on a Tuesday afternoon at Chalet Beaumarchais in Seville, Vt.”

Thus Barn Opera describes its production of Gioachino Rossini’s comic masterpiece, “The Barber of Seville,” being presented at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Feb. 15 and 16, at Brandon Music. (The professional production, accompanied by piano, will be sung in Italian with English supertitles.)

Barn Opera is the brainchild of tenor Joshua Collier, a real Italian-style opera tenor who moved to Brandon several years ago after becoming a “regular” at Opera Company of Middlebury. Unlike Middlebury, which presents full-scale productions, Barn Opera offers “opera in miniature” in the intimate 50-seat Brandon Music.

Although tiny, Barn Opera is the real thing, using professional singers with excellent voices and acting skills. Just beginning its second year, Collier aims at presenting quarterly operas with new translations and concepts “looking at these historical pieces through a contemporary perspective, giving new life to some of these ‘war horse’ operas,” he said recently by phone.

For 2018-19, Barn Opera has been establishing itself with these standard operas. “For 2020, which we’re programming right now, which will be announced in August, there will be a couple pieces in English — and one written after 1960,” Collier said.

The goal is to expand the art form with new treatments of traditional opera to attract new audiences, and also to create new opportunities for singers.

“I’m hoping Barn Opera becomes a place where singers of the highest caliber can come, and can re-experience something maybe they’ve done many times elsewhere,” Collier said. “And they can come to Barn Opera and they can live it completely in a new treatment and a more theatrical version.”

Singing at Barn Opera isn’t quite like singing at La Scala, and this has a specific advantage for both singers and audiences.

“You have the opportunity to be more sensitive and musical,” Collier said. “You can have a true piano (soft) and it’s going to be heard — you don’t have to have an operatic piano. We don’t have that opportunity most of the time.”

Another attraction for busy professional singers is that the rehearsal process is less than a week.

“It’s a very short process. It’s not a huge obligation,” Collier said.

Barn Opera’s pay scale doesn’t seem likely to attract good singers, but so far, that has not been the case.

“Every person in the production is paid exactly the same,” Collier said. “We’re in a collective, collaborative environment and it prevents anyone from having a diva mentality, which I won’t tolerate. I’ve only almost fired one person.”

For what makes Barn Arts work artistically, and has made it a welcome part of the Brandon community, is its sense of collaboration.

“I want to collaborate,” Collier said. “When all these magnificent artistic ideas synchronize together, everyone working for a common goal, it’s a miracle.”

Barn Arts’ production of “The Barber of Seville,” directed by Nicholas Tocci with pianist Claire Black, features tenor Benjamin Robinson (Conte Almaviva), mezzo-soprano Raphaella Medina (Rosina), bass-baritone RaShaun Campbell (Bartolo), baritone Ryan Hill (Figaro), bass-baritone Fred Furnari (Basilio), mezzo-soprano Giliana Norkunas (Berta) and bass-baritone Tyler Bouque (Fiorello and Officer).

The evening begins at 7 p.m., when guests will be invited to partake in a glass of local beer or wine; at 7:30 p.m. the performance will begin.

Net proceeds from this benefit event will be used to support Compass Music and Arts Foundation’s goal to provide opportunities for the youth of Vermont to achieve artistic development without socio-economic division.

Jim Lowe is music critic and arts editor of The Barre-Montpelier Times Argus and Rutland Herald, and can be reached by email at jim.lowe@rutlandherald.com or jim.lowe@timesargus.com.

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