Skip to main content Skip to footer site map
S44 Ep11

Bel Canto the Opera From Lyric Opera of Chicago Full Episode

Premiere: 1/13/2017 | 00:00:30 | NR | Closed Captioning Icon

Bel Canto the Opera from Lyric Opera of Chicago Comes to Great Performances. Lyric’s creative consultant, soprano Renée Fleming, hosts the opera, which she curated from its inception.

About the Episode

Bel Canto the Opera from Lyric Opera of Chicago Comes to Great Performances
Friday, January 13 at 9 p.m. on PBS

Lyric’s creative consultant, soprano Renée Fleming, hosts the opera she curated from its inception

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.”

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. 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.

The Chicago Tribune observed that “audience members everywhere surely will take comfort in the opera’s message of the transcendence of love and beauty in a world increasingly wracked with danger and fear.”

“All of us at Lyric are delighted to share the excitement of the world premiere of ‘Bel Canto’ with the Great Performances audience,” says 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 can attend the live performances here at Lyric.”

Fleming adds, “It is simply stunning to see my good friend Ann Patchett’s novel come to life onstage as an opera written by Jimmy López and Nilo Cruz. We all feel very close to this piece, and are honored that Lyric Opera’s world premiere production will be aired across the country on Great Performances.”

“I am so proud to present our Lyric Opera Orchestra and Chorus in this exceptional premiere!” says Sir Andrew Davis, Lyric’s music director.

“With a history of Lyric Opera of Chicago co-productions dating back to 1980, we are delighted to once again partner with Lyric to bring innovative contemporary opera to a national audience through Great Performances,” says David Horn, executive producer, Great Performances. “Furthermore, given our long association with Renée Fleming, we are especially pleased to present a project curated under Renée’s auspices at Lyric.”

 Bel Canto is sung in Spanish, English, Japanese, Russian, German, French, Latin, and Quechua, with projected English translations. Sir Andrew Davis conducts the Lyric production directed by Kevin Newbury.  The production is designed by David Korins (sets), Constance Hoffman (costumes), Duane Schuler (lighting), and Greg Emetaz  (projections).  Michael Black is chorus master and Nick Sandys is fight director.

Matthew Diamond, who last year directed NBC’s televised live production of The Wiz, directs the television presentation of Bel Canto.

A production of Lyric Opera of Chicago and Great Performances, Bel Canto the Opera from Lyric Opera of Chicago is produced by John Walker. For Great Performances, Bill O’Donnell is series producer; David Horn is executive producer.

Great Performances is produced by THIRTEEN PRODUCTIONS LLC for WNET, one of America’s most prolific and respected public media providers. 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.

Major support for the Great Performances broadcast of Bel Canto the Opera from Lyric Opera of Chicago is provided by Ethel and William Gofen, Nancy W. Knowles, Dr. David G. Knott and Ms. Françoise Girard, and Liz Stiffel, with additional support from the Walter E. Heller Foundation and Jim and Kay Mabie.

Major support for Great Performances is provided by The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation, the Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen Arts Fund, the Irene Diamond Fund, the LuEsther T. Mertz Charitable Trust, Rosalind P. Walter, The Agnes Varis Trust, The Starr Foundation, the Kate W. Cassidy Foundation, Ellen and James S. Marcus, the Lenore Hecht Foundation, The Philip and Janice Levin Foundation, The Abra Prentice Foundation, and PBS.

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


About WNET
WNET is America’s flagship PBS station and parent company of THIRTEEN and WLIW21. WNET also operates NJTV, the statewide public media network in New Jersey. Through its broadcast channels, three cable services (KidsThirteen, Create and World) and online streaming sites, WNET brings quality arts, education and public affairs programming to more than five million viewers each week. WNET produces and presents such acclaimed PBS series as Nature, Great Performances, American Masters, PBS NewsHour Weekend, Charlie Rose and a range of documentaries, children’s programs, and local news and cultural offerings. WNET’s groundbreaking series for children and young adults include Get the Math, Oh Noah! and Cyberchase as well as Mission US, the award-winning interactive history game. WNET highlights the tri-state’s unique culture and diverse communities through NYC-ARTS, Reel 13, NJTV News with Mary Alice Williams and MetroFocus, the daily multi-platform news magazine focusing on the New York region. In addition, WNET produces online-only programming including the award-winning series about gender identity, First Person, and an intergenerational look at tech and pop culture, The Chatterbox with Kevin and Grandma Lill. In 2015, THIRTEEN launched Passport, an online streaming service which allows members to see new and archival THIRTEEN and PBS programming anytime, anywhere:

Lyric Opera of Chicago

Founded in 1954, Lyric Opera of Chicago’s mission is to express and promote the life – changing, transformational, revelatory power of great opera. Lyric exists to provide a broad, deep, and relevant cultural service to Chicago and the nation, and to advance the development of the art form. Lyric is dedicated to producing and performing consistently thrilling, entertaining, and thought – provoking opera with a balanced  repertoire of core classics, lesser – known masterpieces, and new works; to creating an innovative and wide – ranging program of  community engagement and educational activities; and to developing exceptional emerging operatic talent. Under the leadership of general director Anthony Freud, music director Sir Andrew Davis, and creative consultant Renée Fleming, Lyric strives to become The Great North American Opera Company for the 21st century: a globally significant arts organization embodying the core values of excellence, relevance, and fiscal responsibility.


NARRATOR (RENEE FLEMING): A pleasant evening of song turns into a frightening hostage crisis.

Based on Ann Patchett's bestselling novel, Bel Canto, a spell-binding new opera is about to captivate you with its tale of danger and love.

I'm Renee Fleming.

Join me for the powerful, world premiere production of Bel Canto, the Opera from Lyric Opera of Chicago on Great Performances.


PBS is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization.