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Fairbanks production of La Bohème moves opera expert to tears

Laurel Andrews

Revered opera aficionado Fred Plotkin recently visited the interior city of Fairbanks to explore the unlikely world of opera in northern Alaska.

Plotkin was immediately enchanted. Coming from New York City, it’s perhaps no surprise that his immediate impression was the absence of city din. “I could hear all kinds of other things” he wrote. “Rushing water, wind passing through leaves, bird calls…Wild nature and beautiful opera is a thrilling combination and I have never encountered it elsewhere to this extent.”

Plotkin mused that besides the music of La Bohème, the other greatest sound that he heard were 70 huskies vying for a spot in the 12-dog team that whisked Plotkin through the woods on the sled of musher Bethany Dempster. Plotkin called it “the most exhilarating ride of my life.”

Yet he was also moved by the opera, which was put on by Opera Fairbanks. Opera Fairbanks was founded in 2005 by Cassandra Tilly, Theresa Reed, Morgan Reed, and James Holm. It bills itself as the only professional company in interior Alaska that is devoted solely to the production of opera. Plotkin gave two pre-performance lectures for the company, which he calls “a small miracle” for the small city.

This summer Opera Fairbanks produced La Bohème by Giacomo Pucci, the story of two bohemian Parisian lovers that “sparkles with humor and carries us on unforgettable melodies to the heartbreaking conclusion,” according to the Opera Fairbanks site.

Plotkin was stirred by the production: “What so impressed me in this La Bohéme (an opera I have seen at least 100 times) was how deeply felt it was by cast and audience (about 1,000 for each of two performances). Somehow, Mimi’s cold hands and the sense of struggling artists were entirely believable here, and I confess to shedding a few tears.”

Read more of his charming review of Fairbanks and La Bohème, here.