Watch Lyric Opera's 'Bel Canto' from the comfort of home
"Bel Canto," the opera inspired by Ann Patchett's 2001 novel about a hostage crisis in Peru, had its world premiere in late 2015 at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, and you can watch that very production this weekend at home.
PBS' "Great Performances" returns to WTTW Channel 11 at 9 p.m. Friday, Jan. 13, with a three-hour presentation culled from performances during "Bel Canto's" Chicago run. The cameras were rolling on Jan. 8, 2016, when I watched the Lyric's company perform Jimmy Lopez's music in eight languages.
In this opera partly about opera, Danielle de Niese plays a diva who is among the guests at a diplomatic gathering when terrorists fight their way through the doors and even rappel down from the rafters of Ardis Krainik Theatre. The resulting standoff and the interpersonal drama between the multiethnic guests lay the groundwork for a unique three-hour experience that includes an unlikely romance between captive translator Gen. Watanabe (tenor Andrew Stenson) and captor Carmen (mezzo-soprano J'nai Bridges). Bridges' dreamlike, nighttime aria is the unquestionable highlight of the production.
The action takes place on a giant interior mansion set, with smaller, more intimate bedroom and kitchen sets that slide into view from the wings when needed. The show is a visual, technical marvel, if not a melodic one -- don't expect hummable tunes like those you might hear this weekend at the Lyric's production of Mozart's "The Magic Flute." Fans of the novel will perhaps enjoy the opera more than I did, and certainly more than the woman sitting behind me last year who asked, halfway through Act II, "Isn't this thing over yet?!"
Apprehensions aside, this telecast of "Bel Canto" is worth watching for the chance to see one of Chicago's great artistic institutions without shelling out hundreds of dollars for tickets and parking.
Famous soprano and Lyric Opera consultant Renee Fleming hosts the telecast, which features the Lyric Opera Orchestra and Chorus under the direction of Sir Andrew Davis.
• Sean Stangland is a Daily Herald multiplatform editor. You can follow him on Twitter at @SeanStanglandDH.