Lyric Opera of Chicago Announces 2015-16 World Premiere of Bel Canto

Commissioned as part of Lyric’s Renée Fleming Initiative; Music by Composer Jimmy López, Libretto by Playwright Nilo Cruz, Conducted by Sir Andrew Davis, Directed by Stephen Wadsworth; Based on Ann Patchett’s Best-Selling Novel; Soprano Danielle de Niese Stars in Central Role

Anthony Freud, general director of Lyric Opera of Chicago, today announced details of its new world premiere. Bel Canto, by the gifted young Peruvian composer Jimmy López, with a libretto by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Nilo Cruz, is based on the best-selling novel by Ann Patchett. To premiere in Lyric’s 2015-16 season, the new opera, commissioned as part of Lyric’s Renée Fleming Initiative, will be conducted by Lyric music director Sir Andrew Davis and directed by Stephen Wadsworth.

Both the 2001 book and the new opera are inspired by the Lima Crisis of 1996-97, when members of a revolutionary movement in Peru held hostages at the Japanese ambassador’s house for 126 days (Dec. 17, 1996-April 22, 1997). Central to the story is the fictional famed American soprano Roxanne Coss, who will be portrayed by Australian-born American soprano Danielle de Niese. Like the novel, the opera will explore the tensions and unexpected alliances that develop when a group of culturally disparate strangers – the terrorists and their hostages – are confined in close quarters for months.

Bel Canto will be the seventh world-premiere opera that Lyric Opera of Chicago has commissioned for its main stage since 1961. Joining Freud for the announcement were López, Cruz, Fleming, Patchett, Davis, and Wadsworth.

“The creation of new work is a fundamental, vital part of a major opera company’s activity,” Freud said. “I couldn’t be more excited at the start of my tenure here that Lyric is embarking on its latest mainstage commission.”

As Lyric’s creative consultant, Fleming is curator for this world premiere, which is a keystone of the company’s Renée Fleming Initiative. Fleming selected the book Bel Canto as the subject for the commission because she was moved by it and found it “opera-worthy. It’s about terrorism on one level, but it’s also about what happens when people are forced to live together for a long time, and how art can raise their level of humanity as a group,” Fleming said. “Most of us crave a cathartic emotional experience when we’re at the theater, and I believe Bel Canto has the components to do that.”

Fleming researched more than a hundred composers for the commission, coming up with a short list that she and Sir Andrew Davis further distilled in consultation with Anthony Freud. The composer they chose, Jimmy López, has a unique intimacy with the story’s setting and source material that will help to inform his work.


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