Louis Riel: some thoughts

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It was a great privilege to bring 28 students to the dress rehearsal of the Canadian Opera Company’s current production of Louis Riel, by Harry Somers, at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts. The show opened last Thursday night and has several performances coming up over the next couple of weeks.

It’s a landmark production for many reasons and General Director Alexander Neef should be commended for programming this challenging and sweeping opera in this fraught year of the commemoration of the 150th anniversary of Canada’s confederation. The musical direction of Johannes Debus is absolutely first-rate. He has a deep command of this complicated and wonderful score. I know I’m in a significant minority, but I adore Harry Somers’ music and feel that the musical complexity of this particular work is profoundly beautiful. I have unending respect and admiration for all of the singers in this production, who have prepared and perform their roles with such commitment, integrity and poignancy.

Peter Hinton’s staging of the work is thought-provoking. His inclusion of some of the country’s most esteemed First Nations performers gives a powerful added dimension to this revival.

I have fond memories of Harry Somers, who was a family friend and a composer colleague of my father’s. He was ahead of his time as a creative artist and thinker and it’s wonderful that this work – his masterpiece – has been remounted in such a loving and generous way by all involved. I was reminded of one of his last exhortations, a few days before he passed away in 1997: “There’s no limit in this friggin’ country if it drops its colonial mentality. We’ve got marvellous talent in every field – stop bitching and get on with it!”

I know that surviving members of the original 1967 cast have been closely involved in supporting and encouraging this production and it was heart-warming to see the original conductor Victor Feldbrill at the dress rehearsal, having just celebrated his 93rd birthday! While chatting with him, Victor pointed in the direction of Johannes Debus and said “he’s a very fine conductor”.

Blessings and warm wishes to all involved in Louis Riel. I look forward to seeing it at least once more in the coming days.

  • Larry Beckwith

Louis Riel, by Harry Somers, continues at the Four Seasons for the Performing Arts until May 13. Click here for tickets. It will the travel to the National Arts Centre in Ottawa for performances June 15-17. Click here for more information.

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