Yooper (noun): Someone who lives in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan or, as Andy Hill puts it, “A Finn with a little bit of Sisu mixed in.”
Yoopera! (noun — but maybe kind of a verb): A Yoopera is what happens when you combine Yoopers and Oopera (the Finnish word for opera). The result: An exuberant, operatic, and inspirational celebration of local history and culture.
The documentary Yoopera! tells the story of how the legacy of family stories and local history inspired both the commissioning and production of a major opera and a widespread community celebration of heritage in the beautiful, remote Upper Peninsula of Michigan (the U.P.). In 1906, the copper-boom town of Rockland, Michigan was the site of a small strike by Finnish miners and trammers. The strike ended in violence and two of the Finnish strikers were shot and killed by Sheriff’s deputies. No one was ever held accountable for these deaths and they had a chilling effect on the Finnish community in that town. Within the next few decades, the copper industry left the area and the story was mostly forgotten until it was passed on through the family of Alfred Laakso, a Finnish Rockland resident who witnessed those tragic events. Remarkably, through the transmission of family oral history and chance community conversations, the story evolved into an original opera by Finnish composer Jukka Linkola and librettist Jussi Tapola, which had sold-out premieres in both Finland and America and was webcast live to an audience of over 60,000 people in 28 countries. Alongside of the opera commissioning and production was a major public art project designed by Mary Wright that invited people in the community to contribute their own family stories and memories, resulting in a stunningly beautiful installation of thousands of white flags at the opera premiere and a community of people who became personally connected to the opera and its story. Yoopera! captures the resiliency and determination of an area and its people that is the true legacy of the immigrant experience. It shows us the power of knowing our family stories and what can happen when we share them with each other through art.