In light of the era of Truth and Reconciliation, Director Peter Hinton’s reincarnation of the 1967 opera, Louis Riel, brings new understanding and cultural sensitivity to the forefront.
Louis Riel, an Opera written by Mavor Moore and composed by Harry Sommers, depicts the controversial Métis leader Louis Riel, who was executed in 1885. Hinton comments on the 50 year old opera, saying that “the opera was written in its time and is very much an artifact of its time. In remounting it, I wanted to bring in more perspectives of the story.”
Hinton committed himself to revamping the opera rather than simply reviving it. “The challenge is immediate because when you try to tell a story like this, which is so central and important to Canada’s history with Indigenous peoples, and then do it with an opera which is perhaps the most Eurocentric form ever, there’s immediately a tension,” he told CBC News. He goes on to say that today “if one was to take on or commission or create an opera about Louis Riel there would be Indigenous and Métis involvement in its creation.”
The additional changes include:
A “physical chorus” known as the Land Assembly has been added, consisting of Indigenous performers who never sing or speak, but silently bear witness.
A new role called The Folksinger was created to narratively frame the opera, played by actor-musician Jani Lauzon, who is of Métis heritage.
A new translation of Cree sections was done by actor Billy Merasty, who is of Cree descent and who plays Chief Poundmaker in the production.
Dialogue in Michif, the Métis language, has been added in translation by Métis elder Norman Fleury.
An aria sung in Cree by Marguerite Riel (Louis Riel’s wife) with music based on a Nisga’a mourning song that was collected by ethnographers and used in Somers’ score has been properly negotiated for use with its hereditary rights holders.
Subtitles projected in English, French, Cree and Michif.
Some of the Indigenous characters will be portrayed by Indigenous actors
Though Louis Riel and his wife Marguerite will not be portrayed by Indigenous or Métis actors, the adjustments already made is still one step further for Indigenous and Métis peoples.
Louis Riel will be performed by the Canadian Opera Company in Toronto from Thursday to May 13, and by the National Arts Centre in Ottawa on June 15 and 17.
For more information see CBC’s article here