'Bel Canto' to premiere on Chicago Lyric Opera stage

'Bel Canto' to premiere on Chicago Lyric Opera stage

CHICAGO (AP) — Two things make the Lyric Opera of Chicago's world premiere of "Bel Canto" on Monday unique: Famed soprano Renee Fleming commissioned the work based on the popular novel and, rare for opera, it tells the story of a modern event.

Announced in February 2012, approximately a year after Fleming became creative consultant at Lyric, "Bel Canto" will be the Chicago opera's first world premiere since 2004 & its seventh since 1961. It will re-create Ann Patchett's best-selling, book-club sensation loosely based on the Peruvian hostage crisis of 1996-1997, when revolutionaries held hostages at an ambassador's house in Lima.

"It's unquestionably riskier to pick a contemporary subject & I wish more people would go ahead & do that," Fleming said in an interview. "We need more things that are relevant to our lives now."

p>Soprano Danielle de Niese will star in the lead role of Roxane Coss, an American opera singer who is one of the hostages. Fleming has said she chose not to take the part because she wanted to experience curating the project, & her involvement on that end has bred high expectations, said opera expert Fred Plotkin.

"She is a very highly visible & very highly accomplished artist," Plotkin said. "I think she knows satisfactory material & I think if she didn't think this was satisfactory material she wouldn't pick it."

This isn't a vanity project for Fleming, Plotkin said, because "if this was a vanity project for Renee she'd be performing it."

Fleming agrees.

"I think it would have taken away from the piece actually," she said. "Once they (the audience) imagine that it's a vanity project it takes away from the work."

One reason Fleming was attracted to the piece was because the role of Coss offered a more ageless, intriguing role for women in opera.

"I want to see pieces that focus more on women, where women aren't just the ingenue victim, which is the center of the plot of 90 percent of opera," she said.

But once inspiration turned to reality, de Niese said, Fleming allowed her to create the role.

"I don't think it's her goal to go, 'OK, here's how I would do the role, yet I'm not going to do it. You do it,'" de Niese said. "I think she wanted to be much more at the creative helm."

Which she was, said Peruvian composer Jimmy Lopez, whom Fleming chose for the piece. He says Fleming was often sending emails & meeting with the creative team.

"There are a lot of her suggestions & her impact that have shaped the opera," he said.

Lopez moreover echoes Fleming's support of modern stories on opera stages. Especially this piece, which the opera's cast & creative team have said echoes violence seen recently in its premiere city of Chicago & places like Paris & San Bernardino, California.

"If we want to keep moving forward we have to have material that is relevant to audiences today," he said. "And that's what we have here."

As de Niese describes it, "You're not going to see another opera approximately this kind of subject matter, terrorists & hostages. It's like bringing real life to the opera stage. Real people went through this."

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Online:

http://www.lyricopera.org

http://www.danielledeniese.com/en/

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Follow Caryn Rousseau on Twitter at https://www.twitter.com/carynrousseau

Source: “Associated Press”