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Opera singer Josh Collier is making Vermont a diva destination

Josh Collier is a force of operatic nature. The opera tenor has been a Brandon resident for just over a year, but in that short time has not only embraced the town, but embarked on a mission to bring opera to Brandon. Now, Collier, 30, is looking to expand on that goal. “If you think you know what opera is, and you don’t like it, give me a chance,” Collier said during a recent wide-ranging interview.
But it’s not just about bringing opera to the masses. Collier sees opera in Vermont as an economic development opportunity. And he has plans.
“Madama Butterfly” was the first offering of Barn Opera, Collier’s non-profit brainchild in partnership with Brandon Music and the Compass Music and Arts Center in Brandon. The February event featured Collier and seven other Vermont-based opera singers performing at Brandon Music. The performance sold out in a matter of hours and was a rousing success. The first 50 donors to give $50 or more received tickets, and the net proceeds were used to support the goals of the Compass Music and Arts Foundation to expand artistic opportunities for local youth.
Barn Opera’s next gig was “Opera’s Greatest Hits” this past Friday and Sunday, in the same venue. There were arias, duets, trios and quartets from some well-known operas such as “The Magic Flute” and “La Boheme,” as well as lesser-known works like “The Pearl Fishers.” Collier brought Lyric Soprano Michelle DeCoste, Coloratura Soprano Natalie Logan, Mezzo Soprano Kimberly Hilton and Baritone Suchan Kim to sing in the show.
A charismatic and energetic man with a voice that carries, Collier can’t contain his love for opera or his new hometown. “I see this company as Brandon’s company,” he said of Barn Opera. “Specifically, I don’t want Brandon to feel it has to bleed for this company. I want them to see it as a gateway into this art form that I love.”
Collier and his wife, Hilary, moved to Brandon from Boston last year for the peace and quiet. Tired of city life and the constant travel that comes with forging an opera career, Collier was looking for a home base where he and his wife could raise their daughter, Lily. He discovered the area in 2015 when he drove up from Boston for an audition at Opera Company of Middlebury at the Town Hall Theater. “I had never been north of Portsmouth,” he said. “I got to Woodstock and I was like, ‘Oh my God, people live here?’ It was like Narnia. Then I got to Middlebury and I just fell in love with the area.”
PROFESSIONAL OPERA TENOR Josh Collier, second from left, in “Turandot” Collier was the understudy for the lead on Middlebury Opera’s production of “Turandot,” and when the lead tenor wasn’t available, he did three rehearsals with principal cast and sang a performance for a paying audience. He and his wife rented a house on Lake Dunmore. They settled in and their daughter Lily, who was 13 months old at the time, was sitting on the couch looking out at the lake when she put her hand to her cheek and said, “Wow…” Collier snapped a photo of that moment and still carries it in his phone. “This was the reason we moved here,” he said, showing the photo. “I had been traveling for nine months. I missed Lily’s first birthday, I missed weddings, I missed funerals, I missed all that stuff. My wife and I looked at each other and said, ‘Something’s gotta give.”
They haven’t looked back, and last month the couple welcomed their second child, a daughter named Chloe.
The goal of Barn Opera is not just to bring opera to Vermont. Collier also sees it as an economic opportunity for Brandon. He is hoping to get all the local inn owners together to discuss discounted room rates for opera patrons and performers, who he said don’t just come here for the singing. “They shop in our stores, they visit the area,” Collier said. “It’s like a working vacation for them. I’m trying to bring in a quality of singing and a quality of person because they’re coming into our community. They will be staying here and they will be shopping here.”
And there have been some exciting developments for Barn Opera. On Aug. 11 at 7 p.m., the cast from the opera company’s “Madama Butterfly” will perform live at the Vermont Public Radio studios in Colchester. The event will also be recorded. Tickets are available now at barnopera.com. Collier has also created a vocal competition that will be held at the Brandon Town Hall on Nov. 17. The Vermont Vocal Competition has drawn 30 contestants so far from within a 250-mile radius of Brandon. After preliminary judging, 12 contestants will move on to the finals. First Prize is $500, Second Prize is $300, and there will also be an audience choice prize. Judges will be Doug Anderson, artistic director of the Town Hall Theater in Middlebury, and conductor Andy Anderson. A third judge will be named later. Finally, Collier has recently applied for a $5,000 grant from the Vermont Arts Endowment Fund for Barn Opera’s Open Door. The program allows the public into the performance space before a performance, free of charge, to listen to some select opera pieces and ask questions about opera.
“It won’t be a full performance, but the pubic will get to hear music and ask questions,” Collier said. “If you’re into opera, I want you there.” And that is what drives Collier to keep inventing new ways to bring opera to Brandon. He said opera’s image is preventing its growth. “I’m an opera singer and I can’t afford the opera,” he said. “It has this hoity-toity elitism that I just hate. I don’t want people to think opera isn’t for them.”
Josh Collier and Bevin Hill rehearse a scene from the Opera Company of Middlebury’s concert production of Donizetti’s “The Elixir of Life” this past October.
Independent file photo/Trent Campbell
As for his new town, Collier couldn’t be happier. He still travels to perform, but on a more regional level, and he is always happy to come home. For the Opera Company of Middlebury’s June 2017 production of “Il Trittico” he jumped in at the last minute and learned the role of Gherardo in two weeks.He was well received in the OCM’s “The Elixir of Love” this past October, and will sing in the company’s “A Streetcar Named Desire” next month. Collier said he can’t help but try to promote the art form he loves so much, and Brandon and Vermont has welcomed him with open arms.
“When someone says ‘You can’t do that,’ I say, ‘Watch me,’” he said with a smile. “There are so many people who say, ‘No,’ and I can’t accept that. It’s a combination of stubbornness, stupidity and creativity, and the fact that this community has fully embraced my crazy is really special.”
For more information about Barn Opera visit barnopera.com.

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