Half Breed and Still Here

Yesterday’s concert in the Music Garden at Harbourfront was a celebration of Métis resilience featuring works by three Métis composers performed by the Wood and Wire Quartet with mezzo-soprano Rebecca Cuddy.  The full program is here.


The three excerpts from the opera Li Keur: Riel’s Heart of the North (see note below) were sung in at least four languages.  I got the drift of the English and French but my Cree and Michif aren’t so great!  Nonetheless the texts clearly set the mood for the concert with themes of resistance and survival to the fore.  The music was energetic and essentially tonal with just a touch of minimalism.

Ian Cusson was present to introduce his Marilyn Dumont settings.  I’ve written about these quite a few times now and regular readers will know how much I admire them.  The new setting for string quartet is excellent with the extra colours afforded amplifying the fairly raw and abrasive emotionalism as well as the lyricism of the gentler passages.  Rebecca Cuddy seems to be growing into these songs.  I thought yesterday that she gave herself the freedom to be more expressive, fierce even, and I liked it.

Pat Carrabré’s Three Métis Songs are a Harbourfront commission and a world premiere so it was great that the composer was there to introduce them and that half the quartet was made up of Carrabrés.  There was a narrative across the three songs ranging from the early days of Métis resistance (The victory at Frog Plain), through the years of cultural invisibility to the reassertion of Métis identity in this century.  The three movements were quite varied in mood and the singing was effectively interpolated with spoken text.

All in all this was a genius bit of programming by Gregory Oh.  It would have been effective in the concert hall but seemed all the better for the summer sunshine, sail boats and butterflies of the Music Garden (we’ll discretely pass over Island Airport and the helicopters!).  It would make a great CD.

Final thought… I love the way Métis writers have reclaimed the term “half breed” and turned it from a term of abuse to an assertion of identity.

Note: Li Keur, from which the three excerpts sung at this concert were drawn, was co-composed by Neil Weisensel (who isn’t Métis) and fiddler Alex Kusturok (who is).  The idea for the opera, the libretto, translations etc are by Dr. Suzanne M. Steele (who is also Métis and was credited in the preview post).

2 thoughts on “Half Breed and Still Here

  1. Please amend this report to properly attribute the author, Indigenous lead, close collaborator, of Li Keur to include a credit for my name, Dr. Suzanne M Steele. I am the librettist, author, Indigenous co-director of Li Keur project, one that incorporates multiple languages and musical textures. Also, please include the other composer’s name, Alex Kusturok, who is Indigenous. This report makes it appear that Li Keur, Riel’s Heart of the North is written solely by a white man, it is not.

    • I wrote the review less than 48 hours after posting the “notice” of the concert in which there’s a full listing of the pieces performed including an acknowledgement that you were the librettist for the first three pieces. There was a link to that post in the review and I really didn’t want to duplicate that information more than absolutely necessary. That said, I’m going to add a note to the post with further information though I wouldn’t normally expound on the composition history of an opera when I’m reviewing an informal concert that included three short extracts from it.

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