Bel Canto Opera Overview
Composed by Jimmy López
Libretto by Nilo Cruz
Based on the novel by Ann Patchett
In Spanish, English, Japanese, Russian, German, French, Latin, and Quechua, with projected English titles
Ann Patchett's best-selling novel Bel Canto took the literary world by storm. Now, in a new work curated by Lyric's creative consultant, Renée Fleming, this riveting story inspired by a real-life event becomes a powerful opera.
Superstar American diva Roxane Coss has flown to Peru to sing at the vice president's home for a visiting Japanese mogul who is an opera buff. Dignitaries of every nationality are there — but an international crisis explodes when terrorists storm the mansion and take everyone hostage. Isolated for months, unlikely alliances form between captors and captives as fear and anger mingle uneasily with desire and even love. Music is the one universal language — but can it draw forth the humanity that exists in us all?
The extraordinary international cast of Bel Canto is led by Danielle de Niese, who caused a sensation as Lyric's Cleopatra in 2007. Sir Andrew Davis teams up with Kevin Newbury (Anna Bolena) for this world premiere with a libretto by Pulitzer Prize winner Nilo Cruz and music by Jimmy López, a native of Peru and "one of the most interesting young composers anywhere today." Chicago Sun-Times
View our online Bel Canto Audience Guide (PDF for printing) to learn more about the creation of this world premiere.
Bel Canto Events
To enhance your experience of this exciting world premiere, join us for three free, public events featuring Renée Fleming, Ann Patchett, Jimmy López and more! Plus, learn how your Bel Canto book club can read the book, then see the opera at a discount!
For details and to register for these free events, go to lyricopera.org/belcantoevents.
Performance running time: 3 hours including 1 intermission
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.
Scenic Design for Bel Canto by David Korins
Bel Canto Opera Resources
Audio:Bel Canto Commentary
commentary by Jesse Gram, Audience Education Manager
Download (right click and "Save Target As" / "Save Link As")
Lyric Opera Commentaries are sponsored by the Patrick G. and Shirley Welsh Ryan Foundation in honor of their parents.
A project of the Women’s Board of Lyric Opera of Chicago.
A Sneak Peek: The Music of Bel Canto
A Sneak Peek: The Music of "Bel Canto"
Raring to Go: Danielle de Niese readies herself for Bel Canto
Bel Canto - Page to Stage
Behind the Scenes with the Bel Canto Creative Team
Bel Canto Tops Lyric’s Summer Reading List
Bel Canto Tops Lyric’s Summer Reading Lis
Bel Canto Opera Synopsis
PLACE: A mansion in Lima, Peru
The opera will be performed with one intermission.
Diplomats, government officials, and executives are gathered at the home of the Peruvian vice president, Ruben Iglesias, to celebrate the birthday of Katsumi Hosokawa, head of a large Japanese electronics company. Hosokawa arrives and greets the vice president with the help of his translator, Gen Watanabe. His entrance is followed by a performance by the elegant Roxane Coss, a world-renowned soprano – and Hosokawa’s favorite singer – hired for the evening’s entertainment. The guests gather as Mr. Hosokawa thanks them. The vice president introduces Roxane’s performance, and she sings a piece composed especially for the occasion.
Midway through the performance, there is an explosion.A band of terrorists storms the room and orders everyone to the floor. The vice president tries to call for help on his cell phone but is caught and severely beaten. Generals Benjamin and Alfredo demand to see the president. The vice president explains truthfully that the president stayed home to watch his soap opera. Deprived of their intended hostage, the terrorists inform the partygoers that now they are all the property of the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement. Searchlights play across the windows as sirens and helicopters are heard.
Morning. The hostages, who have spent the night on the floor, are awakened by a muffled announcement from outside demanding that the terrorists release the hostages. Hosokawa shakes Gen awake to translate.
Joachim Messner, a Red Cross emissary, arrives. Reluctantly, the terrorists allow him entry. The vice president and the other hostages urge the terrorists to heed Messner and free them. After airing their demands of a better life for the poor and the liberation of a long list of imprisoned comrades, the captors agree to let the injured, infirm, and elderly hostages go with Messner. Though very ill, Roxane’s accompanist Christopf refuses to leave her.
Intrigued by a young soldier, Gen initiates a brief conversation that leaves him feeling uneasy – and full of desire. Hosokawa, infatuated with Roxane and feeling responsible for the entire incident, tries to apologize to her without the help of his translator. Despite the lack of words, they begin to communicate. Meanwhile Gen’s fascination with the young soldier increases as they converse again. Time begins to take on new meaning for the four of them.
A week has passed. General Benjamin adds a new stroke to a rude tally he’s been keeping on the wall, counting the days since the siege began. In their imaginations, hostages and captors alike picture life beyond the walls of the mansion.
Messner enters and tells the generals they need to put aside their ideals and be practical, but they refuse. General Alfredo, frustrated, trains his gun on Roxane and orders her to sing. Her song entrances all, including the young soldier, whose secret long hair comes undone during the performance, captivating Gen again. Suddenly, General Alfredo breaks the spell, angrily ordering Roxane to cease her beguilement.
Messner pleads for a temporary solution, but General Alfredo digs in his heels with a diatribe intended in part to inspire his soldiers. Messner, joined variously by Roxane, Gen, Hosokawa, and even the young soldier, argue for the release of at least the women. During the argument, General Alfredo addresses the young soldier by name – Carmen – revealing that she is a woman.
Unexpectedly, General Alfredo relents and orders the women and Father Arguedas to leave. Father Arguedas insists on staying with the hostages. As the women begin filing out, General Alfredo roughly pulls Roxane from the line and announces that she must stay. Christopf, delirious, attacks him and is shot and killed by one of the soldiers. The generals are furious, for they had ordered that there be no shooting.
Carmen prays in Quechua, the indigenous language spoken by most of the terrorists; Father Arguedas prays in Latin. Hostages and terrorists alike express their shock, and the hope and sorrow that is Peru.
General Benjamin adds another stroke to the wall, indicating another two weeks have passed. Hostages and captors engage in ordinary activities: hanging laundry, reading the paper, conversing. A fog the Peruvians call la garua settles over the mansion. Father Arguedas explains that la garua has been worshiped as a sacred visitor since the time of the Incas. All solemnly welcome the fog. The mood is broken when the terrorists begin a rowdy game of soccer in the living room. Roxane muses with Hosokawa about the days they have lost in captivity.
Another day passes. The frustrated Messner arrives with supplies to find Hosokawa playing chess with a soldier, General Alfredo selecting newspaper clippings, and Roxane at the piano. Among the supplies is sheet music for Roxane. There has been no progress in the standoff. Time passes.
Outside the mansion, the women hostages released earlier hold a candlelight vigil. Carmen says a prayer (“Santa Rosa de Lima”), then goes to Gen.
Another day. Hosokawa plays chess with General Alfredo. With Gen interpreting, the Russian hostage Victor Fyodorov awkwardly professes his love to Roxane. Hosokawa watches and muses on his own love for Roxane.
More strokes on the wall. Searchlights shine through the windows and a muffled megaphone is heard. A worried Messner confesses to General Alfredo that the negotiations are going nowhere. Furious, General Alfredo slaps him, and Hosokawa intervenes. Messner asserts his neutrality.
The next day, the soldiers Ismael, Beatriz, and Cesar hear a report on the radio news and argue about the effectiveness of their mission. Frustrated, Cesar leaves the others and, alone, remembers his former life in the jungle and the day he discovered his singing voice. Roxane overhears his singing and is drawn to his voice. When he realizes she is listening, he runs to the door, embarrassed. He flings it open, and the room is flooded with light. The fog has lifted.
A month later. Messner, looking disheveled and overworked, enters with supplies and fresh clothes. He finds the generals and one of the soldiers playing cards with Fyodorov. Father Arguedas is cutting bread, the vice president is mending a military jacket, Beatriz is decorating her rifle with flowers. Meanwhile, Roxane gives Cesar a singing lesson with Gen translating and Hosokawa looking on. Messner is aghast that all are complacently going about their lives despite the untenable situation. He tries to shake them from their stupor, warning that the government is just biding its time. Saying he’s failed everyone, Messner implores the generals to save themselves and give up the siege. He collapses, shivering, and some of the captors gently help him to bed.
Father Arguedas calls everyone together for prayer, and the group sings a Gregorian chant. With Gen translating, Roxane surreptitiously asks Carmen to bring Hosokawa to her room that night. Later, in the dark of night, Roxane and Hosokawa fall into each other’s arms in Roxane’s room, as do Carmen and Gen in a storage room by the kitchen.
Morning. Father Arguedas and the vice president serve coffee to the hostages. Messner, who has spent the night, tells Roxane they’re at the point where only a miracle can bring about a peaceful solution. General Alfredo signals for the hostages to clear the floor so the soldiers can play soccer. Roxane protests that it’s time for Cesar’s singing lesson. General Alfredo agrees to take the game outdoors.
With halting attempts to speak each others’ language, Hosokawa and Carmen conspiratorially agree that the previous night was unforgettable. Cesar warms up his voice with Roxane accompanying him at the piano.
Rumbling arises from inside the house, and Peruvian soldiers burst through the floor. Cesar tries to flee and is shot. A frantic Hosokowa tries to protect Carmen, but both are shot. Chaos ensues as more soldiers storm the room, hostages flee, and gunfire is everywhere. The vice president orders the soldiers to cease fire. Roxane rushes to Hosakawa, but he is already dead. Gen finds Carmen, and she dies in his arms. The dead are carried off, and everyone exits except Roxane, who is left alone in the wake of the violence.