Louis Riel had its first performances at the O'Keefe Centre in Toronto 23 and 28 Sep and 11 Oct 1967 and at the Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier, Place des Arts, in Montreal 19 and 21 Oct 1967. Victor Feldbrill conducted, Leon Major directed, and Murray Laufer and Marie Day designed the sets and costumes. The original cast included Bernard Turgeon as Riel, Cornelis Opthof as Sir John A. Macdonald, Joseph Rouleau as Monseigneur Taché, Patricia Rideout as Riel's mother, Mary Morrison as his sister, Roxolana Roslak as his wife, Howell Glynne as William McDougall, and Ermanno Mauro as Baptiste Lépine.
The libretto depicts the post-Confederation political events bounded by the Indian and Métis uprisings of 1869-70 and 1884-5 and the personal tragedy of the uprisings' leader, the Manitoba schoolteacher and Métis hero Louis Riel. After the premiere, Kenneth Winters described the opera in the Toronto Telegram (25 Sep 1967) as a 'pastiche... big, efficient, exciting, heterogeneous... It had no ring of eternity but it was a vigorous harnessing of current and choice; a brash, smart, cool hand on the pulse of a number of fashions, social, dramatic and musical.' The production was repeated in 1968 in Toronto - six performances with the assistance of the Chalmers Foundation - and was adapted by Franz Kraemer in 1969 for CBC TV.
In 1975 Louis Riel was revived by the Canadian Opera Company for several performances, including one in Toronto, 27 September, honouring the International Music Council's 16th General Assembly; three (14, 16, and 18 October) at the National Arts Centre, Ottawa; and one (23 October, the US premiere) at the Kennedy Center, Washington, DC, as part of Canada's contribution to the USA's bicentennial celebrations. Wendell Margrave of the Washington Star described the opera as 'one of the most imaginative and powerful scores to have been written in this century.' Using a broadcast tape from this 1975 US performance, Centrediscs produced a three-record set of the complete opera (CMC-24/25/2685-3), which was launched in November 1985 at the 'Image of Riel in Canadian Culture' conference in Guelph, Ont. Feldbrill conducted the National Arts Centre Orchestra, Turgeon and Roslak repeated their roles, and were joined by Donald Rutherford (Sir John A. Macdonald), Jean-Pierre Hurteau (Bishop Taché), Diane Loeb (Riel's mother), Ann Cooper (his sister), Ronald Bermingham (McDougall), and Remo Marinucci (Lépine).
'Kuyas' - the lullaby sung in Act III by Riel's wife to their child - was used prior to the opera's premiere as the test piece for the Montreal International Competition in 1967. It was recorded in 1983 by Roslak on Centrediscs CMC-1183.
Louis Riel was not presented again until Opera McGill gave the first full staging in 30 years, at Place des Arts 27-28 Jan 2005, in celebration of the 100th anniversary of McGill University's music program. Riel was played by Luc Lalonde, MacDonald by Michael Meraw, and Bishop Taché by John Taylor; François Racine was stage director and Alexis Hauser music director. The revival won an Opus award as event of the year.
Author Kenneth Winters, Betty Nygaard King
Somers, Harry. 'The score,' OpCan, Sep 1967
'The making of an opera,' Mcan, 4, Sep 1967
Graham, June. 'Louis Riel,' CBC Times, 25-31 Oct 1969
Schafer, R.M. The Public of the Music Theatre - Louis Riel: A Case Study (Vienna 1972)
Hand, Mark. 'Louis Riel,' OpCan, vol 26, Fall 1985
'Opera in Montreal and Toronto'
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A biography of Louis Riel, the influential 19th century Métis leader. From the "Dictionary of Canadian Biography."
Opera McGill Presents Louis Riel
Notes about a 2005 production of the Canadian opera “Louis Riel.” From the Faculty of Music, McGill University.
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