Review “Bel Canto” (Lyric Opera): Profound!

Saturday, December 12, 2015 Permalink 1

image003Lyric Opera of Chicago presents the world premiere of Bel Canto.

When I read Ann Patchett’s novel, I was captivated by her storytelling.  Inspired by the Peruvian hostage crisis of 1996-97, Patchett penned a tale of an elite house party attacked by terrorists.  A group of international dignitaries have gathered for a private concert by a world renown opera singer. During the evening, rebels forcefully take control of the house.  Patchett’s story focuses on what happens during the months of captivity. The terrorists and the hostages form these seemingly unlikely but unexpectedly natural alliances.  Although the threat of death looms, a community is established. The line between captor and prisoner is blurred. They all adapt together to this new life. 

When I was reading the book, it was hard for me to completely imagine terrorists and hostages living in harmony.  This world premiere commissioned by the Lyric Opera depicts Patchett’s story beautifully. I finally saw and heard the melding of all these very different lives. Their existence is abruptly stopped and then restarted but within a new and contained environment. This happens for both the terrorists and hostages.  Under the skillful direction of Kevin Newbury, we go from elegant party to dangerous assault to respectful communal living.  When I saw a hostage playfully braiding a terrorist’s hair, the realization that we are all just human beings looking for happiness was a subtle but mind-blowing ah-ha moment.

Within this house of multiple cultures, the music brings the people together.  Composer Jimmy López weaves the plethora of ethnic and situational influences into a vibrant tapestry. His music reflects the diversity of the people. Nilo Cruz adds to the robust international flavor with a libretto sung in 8 different languages. López also mingles his gorgeous arias with taut melodies. Conductor Sir Andrew Davis masterfully navigates through López’s divergent score.  At different points, it sounds like a soundtrack to an action flick.  The violence is preceded by a slow-building, skin-prickling music alert.  The feeling of foreboding is palpable at multiple moments. 

Within the tension of their reality, ongoing songs bring emotional relief and release.  The opera star playing an opera star, the outstanding Danielle de Niese (Roxane) sings with passionate dignity.  de Niese confidently commands respect.  When she overhears Anthony Roth’s (Cesar) vocal talents.  She asserts herself as his firm yet tender mentor. Humanity ripples through this entire opera. Takaoki Onishi (Father Arguedas) turns down freedom to be of service within the crisis situation.  Onishi’s conviction is sung with powerful emotional strength.  And for a reprieve from the drama, a plucky song is sung in Russian by Runi Brattaberg (Victor).  His high-spirited rendition gives a light-hearted pause to the melancholy routine.   

One of my favorite things about this opera is the projection designs by Greg Emetaz.    Images of mystical rolling fog or a flickering candle light vigil or a lush forest illustrate the musings of the ensemble.  We see what they are imagining.  When J’Nai Bridges (Carmen) sings a heartfelt prayer to St. Rose of Lima, the saint appears outside the door to the mansion as if she watching over Bridges.  Emetaz’s designs gives us ongoing glimpses into the mind’s eye of the human struggle. This opera is the perfect audio-visual for the novel.

With all the hostility the world is experiencing both domestic and foreign, BEL CANTO is this timely beacon.  It shares perspectives from all sides of the revolution. Experiencing the evolution of thought and action is profound.

Running Time:  Three hours includes an intermission

Based on the novel by Ann Patchett

Composed by Jimmy López 

Libretto by Nilo Cruz

Opera in two acts performed in Spanish, English, Japanese, Russian, German, French, Latin, and Quechua

Conducted by Sir Andrew Davis

Directed by Kevin Newbury. 

December 7, 10, 12, January 5 and 13 at 7:30pm

January 8 and 17 at 2pm 

For tickets and information call (312) 827-5600 or visit


For more reviews and information on Chicago theatre, visit Theatre in Chicago. 


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