Lyric Opera World Premiere Production of Bel Canto to be Featured on Great Performances Series

Danielle de Niese and John Irvin in Lyric Opera's world premiere production of Jimmy Lopez' opera, Bel Canto (photo by Todd Rosenberg).

Lyric Opera’s world premiere production of the opera Bel Canto – recorded in Chicago last January – will air nationally on the PBS series, Great Performances Friday, January 13 at 9 p.m. CST.(Readers should check local listings.) Based on Ann Patchett's best selling 2001 novel (which was inspired by the 1996-97 Peruvian hostage crisis), the new opera was composed by Jimmy López with a libretto by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Nilo Cruz. Legendary soprano Renée Fleming, Lyric's creative consultant, curated the project from its inception and hosts the upcoming broadcast.

Says Fleming, “One of the greatest joys of my role as creative consultant at Lyric has been to develop this new work for the operatic stage. When the novel "Bel Canto" came out, it was a runaway bestseller, 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. (See our Q&A with de Niese in anticipation of the world premiere of the opera here in Chicago). 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.

“All of us at Lyric are delighted to share the excitement of the world premiere of Bel Canto with the Great Performances audience,” noted 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 could attend the live performances here at Lyric."

Bel Canto is is sung in Spanish, English, Japanese, Russian, German, French, Latin, and Quechua, with projected English translations. Sir Andrew Davis conducts the Lyric production, which is directed by Kevin Newbury. Matthew Diamond, who last year directed NBC’s televised live production of The Wiz, directs the television presentation of Bel Canto.

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

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.