Barn Opera gets creative, pivots to film

Enacting a scene from Barn Opera’s forthcoming cinematic version of Mascagni’s opera, Cavalleria Rusticana, are: Kasey King, back left; Jeff Haylon; back center; Cailin Marcel Manson, back right; Hilary Collier, front left, Joshua Collier, front center, and Nicholas Tocci, front right. Photo by Nicolas Lasseigne


BRANDON — “Dynamic” hardly describes Barn Opera’s founder and Artistic Director Josh Collier sitting in the sun outside Brandon’s public library on a quintessential late-spring day. He’s a flurry of stories told with a beaming smile, completely genuine yet with just a tinge of the sardonic. His phone, doing its best impression of him, never seemed to stop ringing.

Collier recently posted a video on Barn Opera’s website detailing his “tough-but-necessary” decision to cancel this spring’s in-person performances, but he remained anything but glum. 

“I’m too stubborn to take no for an answer. Tell me I can’t do something,” he said. “That’s the quickest way for me to make it happen.”

Collier cited concern from the opera’s fans over the recent wave of COVID — May was the deadliest month in Vermont’s history to date — as the reason for the cancellations and his decision to pivot on the fly into film.

“I’ve always loved telling new stories from old pieces,” he said. “This is no different. In some ways, this sense of the unexpected is what Barn Opera is about.”

Collier did not say whether he had the classic tale of Orpheus and Eurydice on his mind when brainstorming ways to save his snake-bit production from the underworld of cancellation. 

Still, with the cast and crew already under contract for The Soprano Lives, a double-bill of one-act shows — Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana and Puccini’s Il Tabarro — Collier knew he had to find a way to proceed. 

 “We’ve always been about the total experience — transferring that experience to a cinematic one felt natural to me,” he said. “Of course, there are different considerations for each medium, but I think it’s exciting to bring the subtlety and intimacy of film into an art form known more for its audacity and grandeur.”

Production for the cinematic version of Cavalleria Rusticana, which translates as rustic chivalry, has already wrapped. Shot over three days on location in Brandon and Salisbury, Collier describes his version of the story as a modern-day re-telling of the original tale of jealousy and revenge.

Adding to the intrigue, he says, is the setting of Easter Sunday. “That we were able to shoot it here, so close to Easter, will lend a visual juxtaposition we probably wouldn’t have been able to pull off inside the barn,” he said. “It’s the kind of thing that could and does happen today. It’s about the brutal aspects of life in a small town — the things lurking under the surface.”

As for Il Tabarro (or ‘the cloak’), production for the tale of romance and murder among Parisian stevedores at the end of the belle époque will begin in late July. Collier says he plans to shoot a black-and-white, film noir-esque treatment on the docks of New York City.

Both films will stay true to their Barn Opera roots by featuring state-of-the-art recordings made inside the opera’s barn theatre. 

“Opera begins and ends with the music,” said Collier. “I don’t want to lose sight of that. It’s the direction for everything we do.”

Each film will have a separate premiere at Barn Opera sometime in late summer as a run-up to a full-throat return to the regularly scheduled year-round programming in October. “Anyone looking for updates on the projects can find them online at our website or on Facebook or Instagram,” said Collier.

In the meantime, the ever-kinetic Collier has other big plans. He will be traveling to Tuscany at the end of June for Castellopera, a two-week operatic training program held in a thousand-year-old castle in the Florentine commune of Pelago. The training will also feature, among others, Barn Opera’s pianist and Assistant Music Director Felix Jarrar and its Associate Director Nicholas Tocci, as well as Italian lessons from Middlebury professor Sandra Carletti.

As if that weren’t enough, Collier will make a pit stop in Casper, Wyoming, on his way home to squeeze in a performance of Puccini’s La Bohème. 

“It will be the first-ever performance of a full Italian opera in the state’s history,” he said before being interrupted by a call on his cell phone. 

“What? I’m busy,” he answered with a rascally laugh, then, hanging up, added: “It’s always like this.”

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