29 February 2012

Lyric Opera of Chicago to Present World Premiere of Bel Canto, Composed by Jimmy López, During 2015-16 Season

Lyric Opera of Chicago will present during its 2015-16 season the world premiere of Bel Canto, an opera adaptation of Ann Patchett's best-selling PEN/Faulkner Award-winning novel, the company's general director, Anthony Freud, announced today. 

The opera — commissioned as part of the company's Renée Fleming Initiative — will feature the music of Peruvian composer Jimmy López and a libretto by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Nilo Cruz. The piece, which will be conducted by Lyric music director Sir Andrew Davis and directed by Stephen Wadsworth, will star soprano Danielle de Niese in the central role of Roxanne Coss. 

Patchett's 2001 book draws its inspiration from the Lima Crisis of 1996-97, in which members of a Peruvian revolutionary group held hostage hundreds of diplomats, government workers, business executives and party-goers at the Japanese ambassador's home for more than four months. Patchett's novel, which is told in the omniscient third person, takes as its heroine a fictional American soprano named Roxanne Coss — partly inspired by Fleming, according to Patchett — and explores the strains and alliances formed by strangers of different backgrounds who are held captive in close quarters. 

"The creation of new work is a fundamental, vital part of a major opera company’s activity," Freud said at the announcement today. "I couldn't be more excited at the start of my tenure here that Lyric is embarking on its latest mainstage commission." Bel Canto will be the seventh world-premiere that Lyric Opera of Chicago has commissioned for its main stage since 1961. 

Fleming, who serves as a creative consultant to the Lyric, will not appear in the work, but rather functioned as a curator for opera's world premiere, selecting Patchett's novel as the subject for a commission and  researching more than a hundred potential composers. Fleming, Davis and Freud ultimately selected Jimmy López (born 1978), whose music has been heard at Carnegie Hall and the Aspen Music Festival, and has performed by orchestras that include the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Philadelphia Ochestra, the Boston and Atlanta Symphony Orchestras as well as by the leading symphonies of Chile, Peru and Finland. López studied at the National Conservatory of Music in Lima and holds a Master of Music degree from Finland's Sibelius Academy and a PhD from the University of California at Berkeley. In May, the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France will present his new orchestral work, Synesthésie

Nilo Cruz, who became the first Latino to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama with his play Anna in the Tropics, was selected by López to write the libretto after the composer noticed parallels between Patchett's novel and the playwright's work Two Sisters and a Piano about siblings living under house arrest in Cuba. 

Wadsworth, who has staged the premieres of operas by contemporary composers including Peter Lieberson, Peter Maxwell Davies and Daron Aric Hagen, will function as a dramaturge for the work in addition to directing the world-premiere production.  "I think there is a terrific opera in Bel Canto," Wadsworth said in a statement issued by the company. "There’s a vivid political story, at least two love stories, and a larger story about art and its healing power. There is also an intriguing mélange 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." 

There have been a number of attempts over the past decade to adapt the novel, including previous efforts at a movie, a Broadway music and an opera. Remarking on the Lyric Opera commission, Patchett is quoted as saying, "I am absolutely thrilled about this and about Lyric. It seems just a perfect fit. It’s an opera company I’ve always admired, and I think that if anybody can break the spell and get Bel Canto into three dimensions, it’s going to be Renée and it’s going to be Lyric." 

Lyric Opera of Chicago intends to announce at a later date further casting, production designs and sponsorship for Bel Cantospacer 

More information can be found at Lyric Opera of Chicago.

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