October 18, 2017

Lyric Opera of Chicago Announces World Premiere: Bel Canto

Chicago, IL (PRWEB) February 28, 2012

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 L?pez, with a libretto by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Nilo Cruz, is based on the best-selling novel by Ann Patchett. To premiere in Lyrics 2015-16 season, the new opera, commissioned as part of Lyrics Ren?e 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 ambassadors 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 L?pez, Cruz, Fleming, Patchett, Davis, and Wadsworth.

The creation of new work is a fundamental, vital part of a major opera companys activity, Freud said. I couldnt be more excited at the start of my tenure here that Lyric is embarking on its latest mainstage commission.

As Lyrics creative consultant, Fleming is curator for this world premiere, which is a keystone of the companys Ren?e 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. Its about terrorism on one level, but its 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 were 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 L?pez, has a unique intimacy with the storys setting and source material that will help to inform his work.

Of L?pez, Davis said, I was struck by his intelligence and the way he understands both the problems in bringing this piece to the stage, but also the possibilities that opera as a medium offers for illuminating a story. For example, the orchestra can accentuate the dramatic situation onstage, but it can also convey the underlying turmoil that one might not see. This is something that many composers miss and that Jimmy understands completely.

In pairing L?pez with Wadsworth, who has directed premieres of operas by the likes of Peter Lieberson and Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, Fleming and Davis were eager to give the first-time opera composer an experienced collaborator for meeting the challenge of taking the opera from score to stage. Fleming said, Stephen has done this often in his career, where in addition to directing, he also has an important dramaturgical role in the creation of the piece.

Speaking of Lyrics world premiere, Stephen Wadsworth said, I think there is a terrific opera in Bel Canto. Theres a vivid political story, at least two love stories, and a larger story about art and its healing power. There is also an intriguing m?lange of languages in play including English and Spanish. My job is to shepherd all parties through the period of creation and development with specific attention to the dramaturgy of the piece. We want it to be fresh and arresting, concentrated and tight in narrative and dramaturgy. All the while I will be imagining it onstage, developing the production.

Jimmy L?pezs music has been heard at Carnegie Hall and the Aspen Music Festival, and performed by prestigious orchestras including the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Boston and Atlanta symphony orchestras, and by the leading orchestras of Chile, Peru, and Finland. In May the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France will premiere his new orchestral piece, Synesth?sie.

L?pez possesses a distinctive musical style and a broad musical worldview influenced by his studies in his native Peru, at the Sibelius Academy in Finland (2000-07), and the University of California at Berkeley (2007-12). His influences range from Bach and Mozart (the ideal opera composer) to Magnus Lindberg, Anders Hillborg, G. F. Haas and John Adams.

The New York Times has described L?pez as an expert in orchestration, while the Chicago Sun-Times declared that he is one of the most interesting young composers anywhere today.

Born in Lima in 1978, L?pez has strong memories of the 1996-97 hostage crisis there, which was covered extensively by local and international media. The bonding between terrorists and hostages was an example of inverted Stockholm syndrome, he said. The terrorists started falling in love with the hostages. Many of the terrorists were only teenagers. They looked up to the hostages as adult, educated, cultured people who spoke many languages.

In 2003, Nilo Cruz became the first Latino to win the Pulitzer Prize for drama, for his play Anna in the Tropics. Other major works include Night Train to Bolina and Two Sisters and a Piano. For Cruz, the allure of Bel Canto as an opera libretto came from this material at the center of the book where there are a couple of love stories, he said. Whenever there is love, theres the possibility to sing and to create soaring music. And the clash of people from different social strata offers great possibilities for dramatic conflict. I feel a real affinity for Ann Patchetts language, Cruz continued. Theres humor in this material, theres lyricism and an enormous amount of beauty. Shes not afraid to be emotional, and Im not afraid to be emotional. I feel an enormous amount of responsibility, and Im going to work hard to make something beautiful and powerful.

L?pez was drawn to Cruz as a librettist by his play Two Sisters and a Piano, which is about siblings living under house arrest in Cuba. The whole play happens within the house from beginning to end, L?pez explained. This is what made me think Nilo might be the one, that he is someone interested in pieces with political overtones.

Ann Patchett won the PEN/Faulkner Award for her novel Bel Canto. Thinking back to 1996-97 and the inspiration for the book, she recalls being focused on the incident in Lima from the start. It had so many elements that were compelling to me: confinement, survival, a group of strangers thrown together, the construction of family. Also, it was such an un-terrifying terrorist situation: it was a takeover where the terrorists were teenagers who kept asking for more soccer balls and take-out pizza. I was very attracted to that.

While writing the book, Patchett listened to recordings of opera singers, including Fleming, as she created the character of American soprano Roxanne Coss. Before writing Bel Canto, the author knew as much about opera as I did about baseball, which is nothing, she said. But once I came up with Roxanne, I threw myself into learning about it wholeheartedly, playing opera all the time and attending operas whenever possible. I absolutely fell in love with opera. It’s been such a wonderful bonus of writing this book. I feel like I learned a second language.

Over the past decade there have been various attempts to turn the best-selling novel into a movie or a Broadway musical or an opera. Of the Lyric Opera commission Patchett said, I am absolutely thrilled about this and about Lyric. It

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