Entertainment » Theatre

Bel Canto

by Karin McKie
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Sunday Dec 20, 2015
Bel Canto

Lyric Opera curator Renée Fleming brought her friend Ann Patchett's 2001 novel of the same name (winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction), "Bel Canto," to composer and Peruvian native Jimmy Lopez and librettist (and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright) Nilo Cruz to create the ambitious, heavily populated world premiere opera.

The book and musical interpretation are based on the real 1996 terrorist attack of a diplomatic soiree in Lima, Peru (a place termed "real and unreal; suspended in twilight"), where the hostages lived with the Tupac Amaru guerrillas for months.

In the opera, the terrorists keep the evenings' entertainment, diva American soprano Roxane Coss (Danielle de Niese, introduced in a kimono-inspired blue gown by Constance Huffman), for entertainment. She also develops a relationship with invited Japanese businessman Katsumi Hosokawa (bass-baritone Jeongcheol Cha).

But the more captivating pairing is between his Japanese-Spanish translator Gen Watanabe (tenor Andrew Stenson), who "gives wings to words to fly from one language to another," and a female guerrilla, the aptly named Carmen (mezzo J'Nai Bridges), whose performances, songs and longings are more believable and poignant.

Roxane also has a more meaningful relationship with soldier Cesar (countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo), recognizing and nurturing his talent for singing, which hits more at the core of the opera, as explained by the creative team in the pre- and post-show talks opening night: the ability of music to transcend politics (which are hinted at through gossip, conversations and radio reports throughout the three-hour, one intermission performance).

The cross-genre pollination is Herculean and admirable, and the giant mansion set (by David Korins) claustrophobically contains the multiple captives and captors, who mark the days with black tick marks on the white marble walls, and declare their "war is perpetual, infinite, insatiable."

The music embraces the clash, and eventual enmeshment of cultures, and is sung primarily in English and Spanish, along with the diplomatic tongues of Japanese, Russian, German and French, Latin from the priest, Father Agruedas (Takaoki Onishi), who refuses to leave when given a chance to continue to minister to his flock, and native Quechua from the mostly illiterate soldiers (all with English supertitles).

The local "la garua" fog literally and metaphorically obfuscates the mansion and the mission inside as Stockholm syndrome sets in. The terrorists even play soccer to stay in shape. Music does sustain them, but there's so much going on, the view is obscured.

"Bel Canto" runs through Jan. 17, 2016, at the Lyric Opera, 20 N. Wacker Drive, Chicago, IL. For tickets or information, call 312-332-2244 or visit www.lyricopera.org #LyricBelCanto

Karin McKie is a writer, educator and activist at KarinMcKie.com

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