Bel Canto opens with an extravagant birthday party for an influential Japanese businessman at the home of the vice president of a South American country. The world's most popular lyric soprano has just performed. The guests applaud, some even weep. The lights go out and then on, revealing men with guns pouring in through windows and doors. Ann Patchett unfolds this story in beautiful detail with music softening the hearts of hostages and terrorists alike.