March 06, 2019

Bel Canto Tops Lyric’s Summer Reading List

It's summer. It's time to slow down, stretch out and enjoy a good book. If the Lyric team could propose a single book to enjoy, it would have to be Bel Canto by Ann Patchett. 

Bel Canto, originally published in 2001, is the basis for Lyric's upcoming world premiere opera of the same name, opening on December 7, 2015.

The book was widely acclaimed, awarded both the Orange Prize for Fiction and the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. It made its way to the top of several book of the year lists, including Amazon's Best Books of the Year.

Loosely based on the hostage crisis in Lima, Peru in 1996, Bel Canto is the story of a band of terrorists that capture an embassy on the evening of a significant social event, netting them a group of high-profile captives from far-flung countries around the globe, including a world-famous soprano. Forced to live together in captivity for months, the individual hostages build relationships with each other and their captors, cut off from their home countries and the world at large.

The New York Times wrote:

"Now it is real opera that becomes foremost in this elegantly alluring book, as the international group of detainees find that music has become their common language."

The work, indeed, seemed destined to become an opera. Transforming the acclaimed novel into that opera has been the work of composer Jimmy López, identified by Lyric's creative consultant Renée Fleming, general director Anthony Freud and music director Sir Andrew Davis after an extensive search for a young artist capable of transforming the compelling novel into a world-class opera experience. López grew up in Peru during the time of the hostage crisis. His intimate familiarity with the place and actual events has brought his own voice into the creation of the new work, shaped in collaboration with Pulitzer Prize winning librettist Nilo Cruz and the director for Lyric's world premiere, Kevin Newbury with guidance from Fleming and Davis, who will conduct the world premiere. 

In the narrative, opera is often used to draw the characters together. Roxane Coss, (Danielle de Niese in Lyric's production), the American soprano hostage, was modeled on Karol Bennett, an acquaintance of author Ann Patchett. Since was not familiar with Bennett as a performer, Patchett listened to recordings of Renée Fleming as she wrote the book and imagined the character of Roxane possessing Fleming's voice. Fiction meets reality, as Renée Fleming has been instrumental making the transformation of Bel Canto from book to opera possible as the piece's official curator.

Librettist Nilo Cruz, conductor Sir Andrew Davis, director Kevin Newbury, and composer Jimmy López. 

The creative and production teams at Lyric will be spending the summer building out the set and unique staging elements for Bel Canto as the work is further developed and prepared for its significant world premiere on the main stage in December. Now is the perfect time to immerse yourself in the story that will become the opera and pick up a copy of Bel Canto, in preparation for being part of the first audience in the world to see the work. 

Over the coming weeks, Lyric's website will contain new information about how you can join one of the official Bel Canto reading clubs, chime in on social media with your progress and reactions to the work, and secure some special advance reading-club ticketing privileges.

Lyric Opera world premiere generously made possible by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Helen and Sam Zell, Ethel and William Gofen, Ada and Whitney Addington, the Walter E. Heller Foundation, and Roberta L. and Robert J. Washlow, with additional support from the National Endowment for the Arts and Prince Charitable Trusts.

Bel Canto was created with funds from the Prince Prize for Commissioning Original Work, which was awarded to Jimmy López and Lyric Opera of Chicago in 2013.

Steingraeber & Söhne is the Official Piano of Lyric’s new production of Bel Canto, in partnership with the Grand Piano Haus, Skokie, Illinois.
Steingraeber & Söhne Grand Piano Haus

Photos: Scenic design of Bel Canto by David Korins, Todd Rosenberg.