La Bohème opera at the Old Fire Hall in Whitehorse on Nov. 4. In this scene, the four poor friends drink with the landlord, sitting on right, as they try to find a way to avoid paying rent. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

Opera returns to Dawson after more than a century with modern take on Italian production

Toronto’s Against the Grain Theatre has brought their national tour of La Bohème to the North

Dawson City, a town once notorious for its elaborate opera shows, will be getting its first taste of the genre again in more than 100 years on Nov. 7.

“We consulted with a historian and the last opera in Dawson City was 1908 at the Palace Grand,” said Yukon Arts Centre CEO Casey Prescott.

After combing through the archives and talking with experts, it was found that even Whitehorse has not had a traditional operatic canon in half a century.

“The last time we can find evidence of opera in Whitehorse was a Canadian opera tour and that was in 1967,” said Prescott.

But the dry spell has been lifted thanks to Toronto’s Against the Grain Theatre and their national tour of La Bohème.

La Bohème opera is performed at the Old Fire Hall in Whitehorse on Nov. 4. In this scene, one of the performers engages with an audience member. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

The show itself is unlike any other opera people may have attended or seen on TV before. Against the Grain Theatre has completely modernized the 1896 Giacomo Puccini opera for a new generation of viewers and listeners.

“Ten years ago we wanted to do a new opera to start our company and we were looking for a piece that people may have heard of,” said Joel Ivany, Against the Grain’s founder, during an interview in Whitehorse on Nov. 4.

“We couldn’t afford a theatre or proper period costumes, so we said, ‘What if we just present it as is?’” said Ivany. “But people may have trouble understanding Italian, so what about English?”

The original production is about a group of artistic friends who are having trouble making ends meet to pay rent in 1830s Paris, while also dealing with love.

Against the Grain Theatre didn’t change the original plot (they didn’t have to because apparently not much has changed with low wages and high rent in the last 123 years), but modernized the location, clothing and language.

The plot of the opera in this rendition takes place in a dive-y apartment and local cheap bar in whatever city the cast is performing.

And instead of a traditional opera house, Against the Grain decided to perform the opera in bars and legion halls across the country, attracting a completely new type of audience.

The theatre also filled the new English song lyrics with local colloquialisms and destinations, making the opera hyper-relatable for attendees at every destination.

During the sold out shows in Whitehorse at the Old Fire Hall on Nov. 4 and 5, the cast sang about The Dirty Northern, The Miner’s Daughter and Baked Café.

A warning for younger audiences though — there are some swears and off-brand topics in the new lyrics.

Against the Grain Theatre’s national tour started in September in Banff, Alta., and travelled to nine other locations across Canada before ending up back in Toronto.

The Yukon was not originally on the tour list for the company, but was contacted by the Yukon Art Centre’s Prescott to come north. A mandate of YAC is to fill artistry gaps, said Prescott, and opera is one of those gaps.

“I’m a big champion of art being relevant and what I get really excited about is working with artists who blow the dust off and make old art forms like opera new again,” said Prescott. “And Against the Grain Theatre is at the forefront of that.”

All the main characters come together during the last act of La Bohème at the Old Fire Hall in Whitehorse on Nov. 4, 2019. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

Fifteen-year-old Jaxson Sheardown attended the opera at the Old Fire Hall with his class from the MAD (Music, Art & Drama) Program on Nov. 4.

“I have never seen La Bohème or any opera in general,” said Sheardown, “so this is a first-time experience for me.”

The young MAD student chose to attend the opera because he was interested in seeing the modern take on the classic performance.

“I did really like it,” Sheardown said. “The singing was really impressive, I liked all the acting, and the story was nice.”

While he admitted that he did have a hard time understanding some of the operatically-sang lyrics, the acting made it easy to follow the storyline.

Based on his first experience of opera, Sheardown said he would be interested in attending more productions.

“It was a very good experience and a very entertaining play,” said Sheardown. “I would recommend it.”

Sheardown and other Yukoners may have the opportunity to attend more operas in the future since Prescott is hoping to have Against the Grain Theatre visit yearly.

“A hundred years ago, (opera) was the show to go to,” said Prescott. “(Against the Grain Theatre) breathes new life in to it.”

The last show of the tour will be preformed at the Klondike Institute of Arts and Culture in Dawson City at 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 7.

Contact Crystal Schick at

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Two people walk up the stairs past an advance polling sign at the Canda Games Centre on April 4. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
April 12 is polling day: Here’s how to vote

If in doubt, has an address-to-riding tool

Yukon Party leader Currie Dixon addressing media at a press conference on April 8. The territorial election is on April 12. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Getting to know Currie Dixon and the Yukon Party platform

A closer look at the party leader and promises on the campaign trail

Yukon NDP leader Kate White, surrounded by socially distanced candidates, announces her platform in Whitehorse on March 29. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Getting to know Kate White and the Yukon NDP Platform

A detailed look at the NDP platform and Kate White’s leadership campaign this election

Crystal Schick/Yukon News
Sandy Silver announces the territorial election in Whitehorse. Silver is seeking a second term as premier and third term as Klondike MLA. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Getting to know Sandy Silver and the Yukon Liberal platform

Yukon Liberal Leader Sandy Silver is vying for a second term as… Continue reading

Whitehorse City Hall (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
This week at city hall

A look at issues discussed by Whitehorse city council at its April 6 meeting.

Point-in-Time homeless count planned this month

Volunteers will count those in shelters, short-term housing and without shelter in a 24-hour period.

The Yukon’s new ATIPP Act came into effect on April 1. Yukoners can submit ATIPP requests online or at the Legislative Assembly building. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News file)
New ATIPP Act in effect as of April 1

The changes promise increased government transparency

A new conservancy in northern B.C. is adjacent to Mount Edziza Provincial Park. (Courtesy BC Parks)
Ice Mountain Lands near Telegraph Creek, B.C., granted conservancy protection

The conservancy is the first step in a multi-year Tahltan Stewardship Initiative

Yukon RCMP reported a child pornography-related arrest on April 1. (Phil McLachlan/Black Press file)
Whitehorse man arrested on child pornography charges

The 43-year-old was charged with possession of child pornography and making child pornography

Team Yukon athletes wave flags at the 2012 Arctic Winter Games opening ceremony in Whitehorse. The postponed 2022 event in Wood Buffalo, Alta., has been rescheduled for Jan. 29 to Feb. 4, 2023. (Justin Kennedy/Yukon News file)
New dates set for Arctic Winter Games

Wood Buffalo, Alta. will host event Jan. 29 to Feb. 4, 2023

Victoria Gold Corp. has contributed $1 million to the First Nation of Na-cho Nyak Dun after six months of production at the Eagle Gold Mine. (Submitted/Victoria Gold Corp.)
Victoria Gold contributes $1 million to First Nation of Na-cho Nyak Dun

Victoria Gold signed a Comprehensive Cooperation and Benefits Agreement in 2011

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley speaks to media in Whitehorse on October 30, 2020. Hanley is now encouraging Yukon to continue following health regulations, noting it could still be some time before changes to restrictions are made. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
No active COVID cases in Yukon

Hanley highlights concerns over variants, encourages vaccinations

Most Read