Lyric takes a gutsy leap into Bel Canto | Bleader

Lyric takes a gutsy leap into Bel Canto

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Nilo Cruz
  • Nilo Cruz
Lyric Opera of Chicago announced today that it has commissioned an opera based on Ann Patchett's novel Bel Canto, inspired by a 126-day hostage crisis in Lima, Peru, in 1996 and '97. The new work will have its world premiere at Lyric in December 2015. Here's some of what makes this news of way more than passing interest:

1. Previous attempts to adapt the book for film, Broadway stage, and opera have failed. Patchett (who was present, along with the entire creative team, at a press briefing today in the Lyric lobby) says, in this regard, the book "does have a certain cursed quality to it."

2. The chosen composer, 33-year-old Peruvian-born and Peruvian- and Finnish-trained orchestral up-and-comer Jimmy Lopez, has never composed an opera before, and says any vocal music he's done lately has been "personal"—that is, desk-drawer stuff.

3. The librettist, Pulitzer-winning Cuban-American playwright Nilo Cruz, will also be making his virgin attempt at opera—though he has written lyrics for a couple of song series. His play Two Sisters and a Piano was what made Lopez think he'd be a good choice for this project; the Reader gave it a mixed review in 2004.

4. The story, about a group of trapped hostages and their captors, all speaking different languages and communicating through an interpreter, is a dramatist's nightmare. Cruz says he "immediately connected" with the material of the novel, but is wrestling with the fact that "we have to be cautious or the translator will be the main character."

5. The book has a built-in soundtrack of opera classics that will have to be dealt with, but won't actually be performed.

6. Fabulous Danielle de Niese is already on board for the central role of soprano Roxanne Coss.

The Bel Canto opera "team" also includes "curator" (and Lyric creative consultant) Renee Fleming, Lyric general director Anthony Freud, Lyric music director Andrew Davis, and stage and opera director and writer Stephen Wadsworth, who will direct the production.

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