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Great Performances Brings Bel Canto to OETA
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The world premiere production of Bel Canto the Opera -- recorded in Chicago last January -- airs on Great PerformancesFriday, January 13 at 8 p.m. on OETA.  Based on Ann Patchett 's bestselling 2001 novel (inspired by the Peruvian hostage crisis of 1996-97), the new opera  was composed by Jimmy López with a libretto by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Nilo Cruz and curated by legendary soprano Renée Fleming, Lyric's creative consultant, who hosts the broadcast.

“One of the greatest joys of my role as creative consultant at Lyric has been to develop this new work for the operatic stage.” says Fleming. “When the novel ‘Bel Canto’ came out, it was a runaway best-seller, and friends from everywhere called me and asked, ‘Is this based on you?’ A novel with a soprano at the center, singing my repertoire? Naturally, I had to read it. I immediately realized that Ann Patchett had created a classic portrait of an American singer, and told a story of power and relevance - perfect for opera.  So I proposed it as a source when we began the creation of a new work at Lyric. I presented Sir Andrew Davis and Anthony Freud with a huge list of composers. But I had been thinking, what if we ultimately focus on South America for a musical language that would geographically correspond to the piece?  When we awarded the commission to the brilliant Jimmy López, I had no idea that he actually had lived through the crisis as a teenager in Lima. The piece also benefits immeasurably from the intensely musical language Pulitzer Prize-winner Nilo Cruz used in his libretto.”

Internationally acclaimed soprano Danielle de Niese stars as the American opera diva Roxane Coss, who is making a special appearance at a multinational diplomatic gathering in Lima when terrorists storm the mansion. The hostage situation becomes a siege as government forces surround the compound. During the months-long crisis, lines blur and unexpected alliances form between captors and captives, with Roxane’s singing becoming a powerful, humanizing force. Among the hostages are a Japanese industrialist, Katsumi Hosokawa (who is obsessed with the opera singer and who is the reason she was invited to perform), and his translator Gen Watanabe, portrayed by Jeongcheol Cha and Andrew Stenson respectively.  J’nai Bridges  sings the role of guerilla Carmen; with  Rafael Davila  as General Alfredo; William Burden  as Rubén Iglesias , the vice president; Anthony Roth Costanzo  as César; and  Jacques Imbrailo  as  Joachim  Messner, the Red Cross intermediary for the  hostages, captors, and government officials.

The Chicago Tribune observed that “audience members everywhere surely will take comfort in the opera’s message of the transcendence of love and beauty in a world increasingly wracked with danger and fear.”

“All of us at Lyric are delighted to share the excitement of the world premiere of ‘Bel Canto’ with the Great Performances audience,” says Anthony Freud, Lyric’s general director, president and CEO. “It is an extraordinary piece — powerful and moving — and I am thrilled that it will be seen and heard by many more people than can attend the live performances here at Lyric."

Fleming adds, "It is simply stunning to see my good friend Ann Patchett’s novel come to life onstage as an opera written by Jimmy López and Nilo Cruz. We all feel very close to this piece, and are honored that Lyric Opera’s world premiere production will be aired across the country on Great Performances.” 

“I am so proud to present our Lyric Opera Orchestra and Chorus in this exceptional premiere!" says Sir Andrew Davis, Lyric’s music director.

“With a history of Lyric Opera of Chicago co-productions dating back to 1980, we are delighted to once again partner with Lyric to bring innovative contemporary opera to a national audience through Great Performances,” says David Horn, executive producer, Great Performances. “Furthermore, given our long association with Renée Fleming, we are especially pleased to present a project curated under Renée’s auspices at Lyric.”  

Bel Canto is sung in Spanish, English, Japanese, Russian, German, French, Latin, and Quechua, with projected English translations. Sir Andrew Davis conducts the Lyric production directed by Kevin Newbury.  The production is designed by David Korins (sets), Constance Hoffman (costumes), Duane Schuler (lighting), and Greg Emetaz  (projections).  Michael Black is chorus master and Nick Sandys is fight director.

Matthew Diamond, who last year directed NBC’s televised live production of The Wiz, directs the television presentation of Bel Canto.

A production of Lyric Opera of Chicago and Great Performances, Bel Canto the Opera from Lyric Opera of Chicago is produced by John Walker. For Great Performances, Bill O’Donnell is series producer; David Horn is executive producer.

Great Performances is produced by THIRTEEN PRODUCTIONS LLC for WNET, one of America’s most prolific and respected public media providers. Throughout its more than 40 year history on public television, Great Performances has provided viewers across the country with an unparalleled showcase of the best in all genres of the performing arts, serving as America’s most prestigious and enduring broadcaster of cultural programming. 

Major support for the Great Performances broadcast of Bel Canto the Opera from Lyric Opera of Chicago is provided by Ethel and William Gofen, Nancy W. Knowles, Dr. David G. Knott and Ms. Françoise Girard, and Liz Stiffel, with additional support from the Walter E. Heller Foundation and Jim and Kay Mabie.

Major support for Great Performances is provided by The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation, the Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen Arts Fund, the Irene Diamond Fund, the LuEsther T. Mertz Charitable Trust, Rosalind P. Walter, The Agnes Varis Trust, The Starr Foundation, the Kate W. Cassidy Foundation, Ellen and James S. Marcus, the Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen Arts Fund, the Lenore Hecht Foundation, The Philip and Janice Levin Foundation, The Abra Prentice Foundation, and PBS.

Visit Great Performances Online at for additional information about this and other programs.