Elena Ruehr collaborated with the San Francisco-based Cypress String Quartet to create her fifth string quartet. Named after the book which served as the work’s inspiration, Bel Canto by Ann Patchett, this 10-movement piece receives its world premieres September 20 (San Francisco) and 24 (Saratoga).
Bel Canto is based on the Japanese embassy hostage crisis (1996-1997) in Lima, Peru. The story focuses on both terrorists and the hostages, including business executives, powerful politicians, and a fictional soprano named Roxane Coss, who have gathered for a birthday party at the home of the vice president of an unnamed Latin American country. As the party draws to a close, members of a terrorist organization break into the house looking for the President, only to find him absent from the event. The terrorists make the impromptu decision to take the entire party hostage. Throughout the next months, unlikely friendships and romantic relationships form among the hostages and their captors. Eventually, the hostages are saved and all terrorists killed in a raid by the government.
In an interview with The Mercury News, Ruehr explains how transfixed she was by Patchett’s “transformation of a dark subject into something ‘that’s rarefied.”
“She takes this horrible thing, and turns into something rare and beautiful, and uses opera to put it out there. And she elevates all of her characters to this beautiful place, without dumbing it down. It’s a very smart, idealistic book.”