The world premiere production of Bel Canto the Opera -- recorded in Chicago last January -- airs on Great Performances Friday, January 13 at 9 p.m. on PBS. (Check local listings.) 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."