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JIMMY LOPEZ & 'BEL CANTO': Anatomy of an Opera and Its Composer (Part II)

Members of the 'Bel Canto' Creative Team (Left to right:  Sir Andrew Davis, Renée Fleming, Ann Patchett, Anthony Freud, Jimmy López, and Nilo Cruz
Members of the 'Bel Canto' Creative Team (Left to right: Sir Andrew Davis, Renée Fleming, Ann Patchett, Anthony Freud, Jimmy López, and Nilo Cruz
Ellen Sturgill/The Ugarte Studio

(To read Part I of this article, please click here. For Part III, please click here.)


Conductor Sir Andrew Davis is part of the creative team of Bel Canto. He has served as music director and principal conductor of Lyric Opera of Chicago since 2000 and was named a vice president of Lyric’s Board of Directors in 2011. Sir Andrew Davis is conductor laureate of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, conductor laureate of the BBC Symphony Orchestra and former music director of Glyndebourne Festival Opera among many other commissions as well as of world renown opera houses like the Metropolitan Opera in New York, Covent Garden in London, La Scala in Milan and the Bayreuth Festival in Germany.

Sir Andrew Davis has said about composer Jimmy López, 'I was struck by his intelligence and understanding of some of the problems of bringing this piece to the stage.' Sir Andrew Davis has also noted that Jimmy López is quite welcoming to a team approach explaining 'Jimmy is quite open to the idea of showing progress reports.'


Initially, Stephen Wadsworth had assumed the responsibilities of stage director for Bel Canto. As the creative team started moving ahead in the process, it became clear that it was not a good fit. Kevin Newbury has now stepped in. 'It was a mutual decision,' explains Jimmy López, as it was evident to the parties involved that a change was necessary.

Kevin Newbury is an opera, theatre and film director based in New York City. His productions have been presented by many top opera companies and symphonies including the San Francisco Opera, Houston Grand Opera, Carnegie Hall, The Kennedy Center, and Glimmerglass Opera among many others.

Winner of multiple awards, Kevin Newbury's nominations include a Grammy for Bernstein’s Mass with Marin Alsop; a Drama Desk Award nod for Best Actor in 'Candy & Dorothy;' and a Glaad Media Award nomination for Kiss and Cry as well as being the winner for Candy & Dorothy.

Especially committed to developing new work, Kevin Newbury has directed several world premieres of operas and plays and is committed to many more, fact that makes him an ideal match for Bel Canto.


The lead role of Roxanne Coss in the world premier of Bel Canto will be sung by operatic rising star, soprano Danielle de Niese. It was Renée Fleming's choice not to sing the part, which was certainly up for the taking by the American soprano.

According to Renée Fleming, 'I would not be able to be objective in the same way...As curator of this world premiere, I find it so rewarding to be on the other side of the stage – involved in the creative process in a new capacity.' With a grin on her face, the soprano had explained, 'Also, imagine what would everybody say...The first thing she does is to give herself the lead role! Prima donna with double 'n'!' she added laughing.

Soprano Danielle de Niese is quickly accumulating quite an impressive resume. She has performed with Lyric Opera of Chicago, The Metropolitan Opera, Glyndebourne Festival Opera, Paris’s Théâtre des Champs-Élysées and Opéra National de Paris, Netherlands Opera, Opernhaus Zurich, Madrid’s Teatro Real, and Japan’s Saito Kinen Festival.

Of her company debut with Lyric Opera of Chicago, the Chicago Tribune declared she is 'strikingly beautiful to look at and to listen to...De Niese was such a magnetic presence...that you couldn’t take your eyes off her if you tried.' Danielle de Niese is certainly creating waves in the opera world that are closer to a tsunami than anything else. Classic FM calls her 'the woman that is changing opera' and Renée Fleming herself has described Danielle de Niese as having 'the star quality, vocal charisma, and spunk of Roxanne. She sings beautifully, and her star is rising fast. We are fortunate to have enlisted her to premiere this work.'


Lyric Opera of Chicago has the premier of Bel Canto scheduled for 2015 and the process follows 'a very strict plan,' according to Jimmy López. 'Everything is organized with specific deadlines' with an initial workshop scheduled for this April as well as the corresponding follow up meetings.

A project of this nature is a gigantic undertaking but, with a creative team at Lyric Opera of Chicago as the one in place parenting this opera, all the logistics become a part of a labor of love. As Renée Fleming has explained, 'Anyone who puts their heart and soul into creating a new work, and most especially in music’s most challenging, long, and complex form – opera – dreams of a work of art that will survive. That’s why our music is labeled classical. It has become classic because people still enjoy it years and even centuries later.' We can only hope that Bel Canto is enjoyed for centuries to come. So, in good operatic style, to Jimmy López, Renée Fleming and the whole creative team, in bocca al lupo!

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