CHICAGO — Best-selling author Ann Patchett's "Bel Canto," the story of terrorists taking hostages at a South American embassy, will find a home on the stage, the Lyric Opera of Chicago announced Tuesday.
The world premiere opera will debut in December 2015, but it won't stage Lyric creative consultant and famed soprano Renee Fleming. Instead, Fleming will act as curator for the project.
"It always struck me that it would make a terrific opera," Fleming said at a news conference in the Opera's grand foyer. "I still believe there's so much passion at the heart of the story and drama and music."
"Bel Canto" – Italian for "beautiful song" – will be Lyric's first world premiere since 2004's "A Wedding" and its seventh since 1961.
Patchett's book is loosely based on the Peruvian hostage crisis of 1996-1997, when revolutionaries held hostages at an ambassador's house in Lima. Over the course of the book, the captive audience is drawn together by nightly recitals from an American soprano named Roxanne Coss. It was a book-club sensation, selling more than 1 million copies in the United States and winning Patchett the PEN/Faulkner Award in 2002.
Previous efforts to bring "Bel Canto" to Broadway and translate it to opera never succeeded, but Patchett is undeterred.
"It seems just a perfect fit," she said. "It's an opera company I've always admired, and I think that if anybody can break the spell and get `Bel Canto' into three dimensions, it's going to Renee and it's going to be Lyric."
Peruvian composer Jimmy Lopez and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Nilo Cruz will write the opera. Cruz, from Cuba, won the Pulitzer in 2003 for the play "Anna in the Tropics." Lyric music director Andrew Davis will conduct and the director will be Stephen Wadsworth.
Soprano Danielle De Niese will star in the lead role. Fleming said she chose not to take the part because she "wanted to experience fully being on this side of a project."
Fleming researched more than 100 composers for the project before and she and Davis chose Lopez, who is a native of Lima and remembers the hostage crisis.
"It has made an indelible mark on the psyche of all Peruvians," he said, hoping to write an opera that is "engaging from end to end."