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BMO backs world premiere of Canada’s first Indigenous-led opera

At Winnipeg’s Centennial Concert Hall in November 2023, Manitoba Opera premiered Li Keur: Riel’s Heart of the North, the first Indigenous-led opera to be produced on a Canadian opera mainstage. Written by Métis librettist/storyteller Dr. Suzanne Steele, with music composed by Métis fiddler and composer Alex Kusturok and Winnipeg composer Neil Weisensel, the opera is a celebration of Métis women, languages, music and culture. 

BMO underwrote the production with a donation of $435,000, in keeping with our Purpose-driven commitment to grow the good for an inclusive society – one with zero barriers to inclusion. 

Li Keur (pronounced Lee Cur, “the heart” in Michif, a language of the Métis people) is a fictional account of an early chapter in Manitoba founder Louis Riel’s life. It focuses on the beauty and love of the homeland and its people, while centring on the stories of women. 

Seventy-five per cent of Li Keur’s dynamic and talented ensemble were of Indigenous heritage, and the opera was sung in five languages: Southern-Michif, French-Michif, Anishinaabemowin, French and English. 

The cast of Li Keur: Riel’s Heart of the North performed in five languages. Photo: R. Tinker 

Many Indigenous audience members had the opportunity to see their heritage represented on the stage, affirming a profound sense of belonging.  

“With the debut of Li Keur, we celebrate community, shared experiences, and the independence and fortitude of the Métis peoples. For more than 30 years, BMO has invested in strengthening relationships with Indigenous communities across Canada, and Li Keur demonstrates BMO’s commitment to furthering Indigenous innovation, be it in business or the arts.”

– Mike Bonner
Head, Canadian Business Banking, Head, BMO Enterprise Indigenous Strategy, and Co-Chair, BMO Indigenous Advisory Council

In Li Keur, Métis culture is celebrated with fiddling and jigging on stage. Photo: R. Tinker

Li Keur is the most important cultural event we’ve undertaken in my 23 years with the company, and was only made possible with BMO’s generosity. Li Keur will leave a lasting impression on the local and national Métis communities for generations to come.” 

– Larry Desrochers
General Director and CEO, Manitoba Opera

With a rich history of supporting the arts across Canada, in 2023 BMO contributed over $9.2 million to more than 130 arts organizations. 

Learn more about Li Keur: Riel’s Heart of the North in the official study guide.

Featured image: Li Keur: Riel’s Heart of the North, Manitoba Opera, November 2023. Photo: L. Rowan

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