Before the show began, audience goers were greeted with a note from the director explaining the decision for showing this timely yet controversial piece. Just a few weeks prior, the world shook with the news of the deadly terrorist attacks that took place in Paris, France. With the world still mourning, many wondered if it was a little too soon for the Lyric to premiere a drama about terrorism. However, this didn’t stop theater lovers from flocking to the theater in droves leaving not one empty seat night after night.
Since the story of “Bel Canto” is so compelling, many theaters and production companies have tried and failed bringing the story to life. After five years of careful planning, it was the Lyric Opera that was able to revive this story into a beautiful and thought provoking production for the masses. We have Lyric’s new creative consultant Renée Fleming to thank for that. The production was a work that was years in the making and the vision became a reality when Renée enlisted the help of composer Jimmy López, and librettist Nilo Cruz. Together they created moving musical numbers that brought the story of “Bel Canto” to life.
Based on the 2001 bestselling novel by Ann Patchett, “Bel Canto” is a story about how even in tragic circumstances love and music will always conquer all. What was supposed to be an elegant gathering of dignitaries and world leaders, turned into a 126-day hostage situation in Lima, Peru. In the original hostage situation, most of the women and all of the sick were released. However in Ann Patchett’s retelling of the story, all but one woman had to remain and that woman was American soprano Roxanne Coss. She was the most important woman in the room, and throughout the play, we witness the power of music through the voice of Roxanne Coss who is played by Danielle de Niese.
While operas are entertaining works of art, these dramatic productions tend to be more than entertainment but a glimpse into our world’s history. For “Bel Canto”, the scene that was laid before the audience was reminiscent to the 1996- 1997 real life hostage situation in Lima, Peru that took place inside the Japanese embassy. However, instead of moments of comedic relief and musical numbers, this situation was quite dire for those affected.
It began on December 17, 1996 when 14 members of the Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement took more than 100 high power officials hostage. What was supposed to be the 63rd birthday party for Emperor Akihito, turned into a tragic ordeal that received worldwide media attention. The birthday celebration was disrupted when an explosion blew through the garden wall of the residence of the Japanese ambassador to Peru, Morihisa Aoki. While most of the hostages including Americans were released, more than four months later 72 hostages remained. It is believed that after the four-month ordeal, blood could be seen dripping from the walls.
For Lyric Opera’s “Bel Canto”, there weren’t many elaborate set changes or ornate costumes; instead, the audience was transported to the harrowing scene that took place in the Vice President’s residence. The scene was initially luxurious with tall marble columns and a winding staircase, but as the production went on the room quickly fell into disarray with markings of grime gradually appearing on the white walls.
For a few hours, the audience of Lyric became invested into the lives of the Peru hostages and we got a glimpse of what that ordeal may have been like for those individuals.
“Bel Canto” is a production that truly makes the audience reflect on our times. Unfortunately, with acts of terror going on a daily basis, the story of “Bel Canto” and stories like it were not works of fiction. Prior to the production, I had no previous knowledge of the Lima, Peru hostage situation, so I’m glad that Lyric gave us audience goers a glimpse into some rarely talked about South American history.
So did Lyric show “Bel Canto” too soon? I think “Bel Canto” came just in time and what an honor that it was the Lyric that brought this harrowing tale to life.
The last day to see “Bel Canto” is January 17th
All photos provided by The Lyric Opera