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Extended Family 3

October 26, 2010

On the first day of orchestra rehearsals for La boheme with the ESO I was chatting quickly with William Dimmer, second chair trumpet with the orchestra.  Bill played in the first two productions I conducted with Edmonton Opera, and was always a very friendly face in the band.  As the start of rehearsal approached, and we were off to different parts of the room, Bill said “La boheme holds a very special meaning for me.  I’ll have to tell you some time.  Over drinks.”

Well, on the afternoon of our final dress rehearsal, during the intermission break, Bill stopped by my dressing room.  He said he would tell me his story, and after my quip that he must have begun drinking already at noon, he smiled and began to share.  Bill told me that some 30 years ago his son, who was 3 years old at the time, came to the final dress rehearsal of a production of La boheme that he was playing.  It was his son’s first opera experience.  Bill’s son had spent much of his first 3 years of life in the hospital, battling severe asthma.  Things had stabilized for him though, and with his ever-present inhaler at the ready, he was able to fend for himself out in the world.  Well, Bill’s son was sitting with his mom through the opera, and along came Act 4, with Mimi nearing her death from tuberculosis.  At one moment deep in the act, Bill’s wife looked up to see their son already in the aisle of the theater, hurrying down towards the stage, extending his inhaler towards Mimi.  She was coughing so desperately, and he knew that he had exactly what she needed.  The opera had thoroughly connected with this 3-year-old, and his personal involvement in the story was simply bursting out.

This was naturally a very touching story, especially as I sat thinking about my own 3-year-old, Ronan, who I have only seen on skype for the last 3 1/2 weeks, and seeing how the final dress rehearsal had a couple of thousand students in the audience.  I asked Bill how old his son is now, and he grew quiet.  His son passed away when he was a teenager and off at camp, victim to his severe nut allergy.  “That was many years ago,” Bill said.  Yes it was, but the memory of his son lives on so vividly in each production of La boheme that Bill plays, and will now for me as well.


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