Barbara Butler
Barbara Butler

Meet Barbara Butler, Opera North
Chair of the Board

Opera North is pleased to announce that Barbara Butler is the new Chair of the Opera North Board, effective October 1, the start of the new fiscal year.

Dr. Barbara Butler grew up in Durham, NH and now lives in Woodstock, VT. A retired professor of anthropology at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, her professional research focused on indigenous Andean peoples and religious change. She has offered several courses to Osher Lifelong Living Institute at Dartmouth for the past 12 years.

Sylvia Paxton, immediate past Chair of the Opera North Board invited Barbara to join the Board four years ago, having known her and her husband Jeff {Bendis] from the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Dartmouth, and that they both enjoyed the Met’s Live in HD performances at The Hop.

But at the time, Barbara and Jeff were dealing with his health issues, not knowing what would come next and she felt she did not have the time to take on the Board responsibilities. There was a second reason.

When she first came back to the Upper Valley twenty years ago, friends said “You have to go to Opera North.”

“They were right,” she says, “And I have had a fond feeling for Opera North for many years,”

However, “I thought the Blow-Me-Down Farm project was pie-in-the-sky for the Upper Valley,” she recalled. It seemed too ambitious and too hard to attract enough people to build a sustainable audience.

What changed her mind, enough to be willing to become chair of the Board of Opera North?

“What brought me around was that first season, the circus and opera plus things other than opera, in a tent! The spot was enchanting. Being part of the National Park Service system and the Cornish Colony history – all had legs,” she recalled.

“The other reason was I saw Evans [Haile] working to grow the audience for Opera North and getting a new audience, with the circus and voices. Then when the [pandemic] shutdown occurred and the Board called everyone to ask what they should do. I said ‘Get a bandshell, Socially-distance. I’ll go!’ And they decided to do that.”

“We were the first. Even the LA Opera recognized that! They said they were the first with live opera performance in September of 2020 and then they published a correction, saying, ‘We were wrong! Opera North in Lebanon NH was first.’ And I thought that was just amazing. How Opera North handled the whole experience was very positive.”

Then, when Sylvia asked me to chair the Board – something I had been successful at resisting whenever asked --- I interviewed every member of the Board and others who know Opera North well, and I found every one of them to be really good, interesting people, who knew what they were doing. It’s a good board. We all know boards who are not.”

So, she accepted Sylvia’s invitation and was voted Chair of the Opera North Board, starting on October 1, 2021, the new fiscal year.

“There are lots of things to put your energy in,” she said. “To put mine into something beautiful, at this stage for me, is something worth doing.”

Barbara observed that her first task is to learn more about the Board and about Opera North’s accomplishments, as the company starts its 40th year. “I think the 40-year legacy on which we’re building the future is our Resident Artists,” she said. “I don’t think that story, or their awe-inspiring talent, is very well known. That legacy of performance and giving new audiences the opportunity to hear and promote these artists is where the idea of a national park for the arts fits in.”

So what made Barbara change her mind about Opera North’s plans for Blow-Me-Down Farm?

“The infrastructure is challenging, but it’s exciting to see what we’ve done over the past few years,” she commented. “We’ve demonstrated the vitality and ability to provide for bigger, and wider, audiences. It’s the beginning of an exciting stage for Opera North, holding onto and promoting the legacy and building the new chapter.”

Looking towards the 40th anniversary, Barbara wants to make sure founder and Artistic Director Louis Burkot is recognized for “who is he is, what he’s done” and how he upholds the high standards he has set. “How can someone audition the Resident Artists over Zoom?,” she marvels. “He’s just magic.”

She is also looking forward to working with Rick Kendall, Superintendent of Saint Gaudens National Historic Park and Opera North’s National Park Service partner. She and the Opera North team are taking steps in the near future to add some amenities for the comfort of patrons, “To show that we’re thinking of them and to look like we’re permanent there, not just pitching a tent.”

Over the next year, Barbara hopes to increase Board activity and staff by getting people involved on committees and projects that may lead them to being interested in joining the Board. “I think there are many newly-retired people who have the energy and time, and who are fond of opera.” She recognizes that not every is, and that the magic of Opera North’s signature circus ‘mashup’ is giving audiences exposure to something they’re not familiar with.

Finally, Barbara intends to learn more about how Louis, Evans and Maria plan and think – and to recognize where she can help and step aside to let them work the “passion that is priceless.”