PBS (Great Performances) telecast the Chicago Lyric Opera première of “Bel Canto,” the opera by (first-time opera composer) Jimmy Lopez and librettist Nilo Cruz (who won a 2003 Pulitzer Prize for “Anna in the Tropics”) based on Ann Patchett‘s best-sellling novel. The broadcast was hosted by Renée Fleming, thought to be the inspiration for Roxane Coss (Danielle de Niese) the soprano who went to Lima to perform at the birthday party of a Japanese electronics magnate (Cha Jeoncheol looks like a Korean name to me, and I’m not sure what language he sang in). In the four months as hostages of guerillas (Túpac Amaru/MRTA) his adoration of the singer and her singing turns to love that is consummated, while his translator gets it on with a female captor (this is one work in which the Asian men are the ones who have sex!).
As is often the case for me, I like the orchestral writing better than the vocal writing. I don’t think any of the arias will be excerpted, though Coss has an extended dramatic one. She also discovers and tutors young countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo.
The audience is locked in the single set (the residence of the Japanese ambassador). I liked the abstract staging of the Achille Lauro Peter Sellars provided “The Death of Kinghoffer more,” though I thought more of “Dog Day Afternoon” than that hijacking. A four-month captivity is harder to convey than those briefer hostage events.
The plausibility of music stirring love is easier to credit in a grand opera than in Pritchett’s novel that was based on the 1996-97 stalemate at the residence of the Japanese ambassador (President Alberto Fujimori did not show up to be kidnapped, only the vice-president; 72 of the original 700 guests were held hostage for four months). The closeups and roving camera provided an intimacy and visual dynamism that seeing the opera on stage had to have lacked. Still, it seemed too long to me even with strong acting from de Niese et al.
©2016, Stephen O. Murray