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History in the making: First ever Indigenous-led opera prepares for Winnipeg debut

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Operas like Carmen and La Bohème have been performed for generations and that makes staging them known commodities for Manitoba Opera.

But their latest production is taking them into uncharted waters.

'Li Keur: Riel's Heart of the North' is a brand new production. It's about a little known time in Riel's life, and the central role women played.

It's the first full-scale Indigenous-led opera presented on a Canadian opera mainstage. Due to the fact that it's never been done before, everything is being created from scratch, including the music.

"It's a new opera entirely, they can't go and look on YouTube and find recordings," said chorus director Steve Denby. "So the only reference that our singers have to the music is what they've done here."

The singers are being asked to belt out opera in five different languages including Michif and Anishinaabemowin.

Singer Camryn Dewar is well prepared for the opera part of the challenge. "I am an opera singer by trade," said Dewar, who studied music performance at the University of Manitoba.

She's prepared in another way too - as a Metis person, this opera speaks to her in a profound way.

"My dad and I kept saying if grandma knew that we were doing a Metis opera with Metis folk songs with jigging and fiddling on stage she would lose her mind! She would be so excited to see her people represented in an opera," said Dewar.

There is still a lot of work to do before they take the stage. But there is a lot of confidence here that they will be ready, and audiences will be delighted in a story that's never been told in this way before.

'Li Keur: Riel's Heart of the North' will hit the stage on Nov. 18. It runs through until Nov. 24 at the Centennial Concert Hall. 

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