An opera based on a 2001 novel by Nashville award-winning author Ann Patchett debuted this week in Chicago. The musical version of Bel Canto, which is loosely based on a hostage situation in Peru’s capital in the '90s, was commissioned by the Lyric Opera of Chicago.
In the story, terrorists swarm the birthday party of a foreign ambassador in an attempt to find Peru’s president. He’s not there, it turns out, but they hold the party captive anyway — for several months. One of the hostages is a world-renowned opera singer whose musical gift transcends the language barriers in the standoff.
Patchett’s novel got operatic interest after she met a real-life opera superstar, Renee Fleming, who decided to turn it into a production. Patchett handed over creative control. In an interview with Fleming in Chicago recently, she told the audience that it seemed like the best idea.
"Can you imagine the alternative?" Patchett joked. " 'No, I think that should be a C-flat.' Don’t you really want to hear that from your novelist?"
Patchett says she even thinks the opera’s libretto, or script, is better than the book.
Bel Canto is running in Chicago until the middle of January.