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Ann Patchett's Journeys in Opera, from the Page to the Stage

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"Bel Canto is something that seems both very blessed and very cursed,” said Ann Patchett, the author of perhaps the famous novel of our time featuring classical music. The 2001 novel, which has sold over 1.2 million copies and been translated into 30 languages, was almost a movie five or six times, almost a Broadway musical and almost an opera by Aaron Jay Kernis. For various reasons, each adaptation fell through.

Nevertheless, the novel was a boon to opera lovers. It tells the story of a group of dignitaries and opera fans who are taken hostage during a soprano's performance in South America. Its protagonist was loosely based on the soprano Renée Fleming.

Although Patchett approached Bel Canto as a self-professed opera novice, today she is a lover of the art form, but not for literary reasons. "When I go into an opera, I’m not expecting it to satisfy me on the level of plot," she notes. “Now every now and then I find an opera that really stretches my ability to believe. But then I think of some really silly operas that I love like La Sonnambula.”

Patchett's latest novel is State of Wonder. It also takes place in South America, features disparate characters in strange circumstances and includes a little opera too. In this podcast, she talks with host Midge Woolsey about the book, her musical inspirations and playing matchmaker to Renée Fleming.

State of Wonder and Female Protagonists

On Developing a Love of Opera, Favorite Operas and Nixon in China

On a Friendship with Renee Fleming and Literary Stardom

Producer: Brian Wise; Engineer: Bill O'Neill