Friday, May 25, 2007

Somewhere In The Deep Archives Of The John F. Kennedy Center For The Performing Arts Is An Historical Live Recording Of Harry Somer's Opera Louis Riel

Louis Riel
Opera in Three Acts

Music by Harry Somers
Libretto by Mavor Moore, with Jacques Languirand


Perhaps the most controversial figure in Canadian historiography, Louis Riel was born in the Red River Settlement (in what is now Manitoba) in 1844. After his studies in Montreal, he returned to Red River in 1868. Ambitious, well educated, and bilingual, he rapidly became the leader among the Métis of the Red River. In 1869-1870, he headed a provisional government, which would eventually negotiate the Manitoba Act with the Canadian government. Undisputed spiritual and political head of the 1885 Rebellion, Riel was sentenced to death and hanged in Regina on November 16, 1885.

Harry Somers’ work begins in November 1869, when William McDougall, future governor for Manitoba, is in Minnesota, awaiting a proclamation from Queen Victoria legalizing the transfer of Rupert’s Land from the Hudson’s Bay Company to the Canadian government. Anxious to assume his governorship, he tries to cross the border with a forged document. A band of Métis led by Ambroise Lépine turned back his entourage. Thomas Scott, a violently fanatic Orangeman, attacks the Métis and is arrested… A music drama in three Acts (18 scenes) based on a libretto by Mavor Moore with the collaboration of Jacques Languirand, and Harry Somers; Louis Riel was commissioned for the Canadian Opera Company by the Floyd S. Chalmers Foundation. Produced with the financial assistance of the Centennial Commission, the Canada Council and the Province of Ontario Council for the Arts, the work received its premiere on September 23, 1967 at Toronto's O'Keefe Centre... under the musical direction of Victor Feldbrill. That performance was followed by seven other live performances, including two in Montreal as part of the Expo 67 World Festival. In 1969, the entire opera was telecast in colour over the full CBC-TV English network. It was then performed during the 1975 season of the Canadian Opera Company, including a performance on October 23, for which a historical live recording from Washington's Kennedy Center has been produced.


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). (Wikipedia)

Canadian-American Politican Louis Riel, Canadian Composer Harry Somers, and Canadian dramatist and librettist Mavor Moore.

Photo credits: Wikipedia Commons and Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (Moore). With thanks.


Louis Applebaum and Mavor Moore's opera Erehwon was performed by Canada's Victoria Opera in March, 2000.


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