Changing the past: How composer Ian Cusson rewrote part of the famous Louis Riel opera

Métis composer Ian Cusson has created a new aria for the 1967 opera, Louis Riel, which originally included sacred music from the Nisga'a First Nation without the community's consent.
Ian Cusson is currently the composer-in-residence for the Canadian Opera Company. (John Arano)

The 1967 opera Louis Riel is often cited as Canada's most important operatic work, but the original version includes a lullaby based on music from a sacred traditional lament of the Nisga'a First Nation — and it was used without the community's consent.

In what's being hailed as a first in the world of classical music, Métis composer Ian Cusson has created a new aria for the opera to replace the original one created by composer Harry Somers and librettist Mavor Moore. He joined q's Tom Power to talk about the story behind this aria and why it's being seen as an act of reparation.

Composer Ian Cusson watches as the National Arts Centre Orchestra rehearses with Music Director Alexander Shelley. (National Arts Centre Orchestra)

Cusson is the composer-in-residence for the Canadian Opera Company. Tonight, his new aria will have its world premiere at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa as part of the Mòshkamo Indigenous Arts Festival.

Download our podcast or click 'Listen' near the top of this page to hear the full conversation with Ian Cusson.

— Produced by ​Beza Seife and Emma Godmere

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