Métis youth singing in the Louis Riel opera

Joanna Burtinside
Joanna Burt.
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Métis youth Joanna Burt will be making her debut with the Canadian Opera Company (COC) in the role of Louis Riel’s sister Sara in the upcoming COC production of Louis Riel.  Hailing from Lindsay, Ontario, Joanna has been part of Métis Nation of Ontario (MNO) Summer Youth Cultural Program and is well-known throughout the MNO for her cultural performances. She is currently completing the Artist Diploma program of The Glenn Gould School of Music at The Royal Conservatory of Music.

Joanna is part of an all-Canadian cast that features 39 named characters portrayed by 30 artists led by renowned opera singer Russell Braun in the title role of Louis Riel. This new production of Louis Riel is co-produced with the National Arts Centre in anticipation of Canada’s sesquicentennial and runs for seven performances by the COC on April 20, 23, 26, 29, May 2, 5, 13, 2017 at Toronto’s Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts. This production will have its premiere in Ottawa by the NAC on June 15 and 17, 2017.

Composed by Harry Somers for Canada’s centennial in 1967, Louis Riel is a uniquely Canadian contribution to the opera world.Louis Riel was the first opera written by a Canadian to be presented by the COC and the COC is the only professional opera company to date to have ever performed it. Louis Riel is sung in English, French, Michif and Cree with English, French, Michif and Cree SURTITLESTM.

“Perhaps the most considerable challenge in staging this opera is the Eurocentric tradition of opera as a form and its collision with the voice, culture and representation of indigeneity in this history,” says Louis RieldirectorPeter Hinton. “It is a delicate balance of renewing the original spirit of the opera with contemporary perspectives in order to revise the opera’s colonial biases and bring forward its inherent strengths and powers.”

A group of Indigenous men and women have been cast as a physical chorus known as the Land Assembly. On stage throughout the opera, the Land Assembly is a silent chorus in protest, and stands for the people for whom the opera has not provided a voice. The Land Assembly shift and transform in response to the actions on stage and are a constant, physical representation of the Indigenous men and women who are directly affected by the outcomes, victories and losses of Riel. Among the individuals joining the Land Assembly for the Toronto presentation is acclaimed theatre creator and artistic leader Cole Alvis of Métis heritage from the Turtle Mountains in Manitoba.

Thirty-five members of the COC Chorus will take on the role of the Parliamentary Chorus and represent a group of settler and immigrant men and women. The Parliamentary Chorus sings and is seen but does not participate in the physical action of the narrative, only commenting and debating on what should take place. They serve as a modern-day Greek Chorus while also representing the functions of Members of Parliament who legislate and validate the struggles of all Canadians in Ottawa. An additional five members of the COC Chorus will be Métis.

Click here for more information on performances of the Louis Riel opera in Toronto and Ottawa.

Posted: March 30, 2017

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