Originally commissioned in 1967 for Canada’s centennial celebrations, a new production of the opera Louis Riel will take the stage this spring to mark the country’s 150th anniversary. Written by Canadian composer Harry Somers, Louis Riel is arguably the nation’s most famous opera. It follows the life, trial, and execution of the 19th-century Métis leader and founder of Manitoba, who dedicated his life to fighting to preserve the rights and culture of Métis people.
The diverse and dramatic score weaves together European folk, traditional indigenous music, and electronic sounds, while songs are sung in English, French, Michif, and Cree. The libretto, written in English and French by Mavor Moore and Jacques Languirand, includes real quotes, including this fateful line from Sir John A. Macdonald: “He shall hang, though every dog in Quebec bark in his favour.”
At the helm of this production, presented by the Canadian Opera Company and the National Arts Centre, is director Peter Hinton, who was selected given his extensive 32-year-career and experience in collaborating with indigenous artists. “Our challenge is taking an artifact from the 1960s and reviving it for today,” says Hinton. “It is a delicate balance of renewing the original spirit of the piece with contemporary perspectives in order to revise the opera’s colonial biases and bring forward its inherent strengths and power.”
Hinton is joined by assistant director Estelle Shook, a Métis artist from British Columbia who has a personal connection to the opera—she is a descendant of Thomas McKay, a Saskatchewan pioneer who testified at the trial of Louis Riel in 1885. Also on the creative team is Métis artist and cultural liaison Bruce Sinclair, as well as choreographer Santee Smith, a member of the Mohawk Nation, Turtle Clan from Ontario.
Louis Riel will play at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts in Toronto on select dates between April 20 and May 13, 2017, and at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa on June 15 and 17, 2017.
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