San Francisco Opera presents the world premiere of Heart of a Soldier, a new opera by composer Christopher Theofanidis with a libretto by Donna Di Novelli. Commissioned by San Francisco Opera in commemoration of the 10th anniversary of the September 11 World Trade Center attacks, Heart of a Soldier is based on the critically acclaimed non-fiction book of the same name by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist James B. Stewart and the life stories of Susan Rescorla, Rick Rescorla and Daniel J. Hill. The cast features baritone Thomas Hampson, tenor William Burden and soprano Melody Moore.
Heart of a Soldier will premiere on Saturday, September 10, 2011—the eve of the tenth anniversary of the World Trade Center attacks—as part of the Company’s 2011–12 repertory season. Six additional performances will be presented through September 30 at the War Memorial Opera House. Francesca Zambello will direct this world premiere production and San Francisco Opera Principal Guest Conductor Patrick Summers will lead the San Francisco Opera Orchestra and Chorus. The production team includes set designer Peter J. Davison, costume designer Jess Goldstein, lighting designer Mark McCullough, projection designer S. Katy Tucker, movement director Rick Sordelet, choreographer Lawrence Pech and Company chorus director Ian Robertson.
A tale of war, love, friendship and heroism, Heart of a Soldier reflects on the extraordinary true story of Rick Rescorla, a man trained to be a consummate soldier who gave up his own life saving thousands in the attacks on September 11, 2001. Inspired by the American soldiers he saw as a boy in Cornwall, England preparing to launch the Normandy invasion on what became D-Day, and by his adult friendship with American fighting man Dan Hill, whom he meets in war-torn Rhodesia, Rescorla emigrates to the United States in the early 1960s to become a soldier and a “Yank,” ultimately becoming a decorated platoon leader during the Vietnam War. On September 11, 2001, as head of security for Morgan Stanley at Two World Trade Center , Rescorla is thrown to the floor when United Airlines Flight 175 crashes into the South Tower . Amidst the unimaginable chaos that ensues, Rescorla uses his commanding presence and booming voice to literally sing his colleagues down smoke-filled stairs and out of the building. While he successfully evacuates all of his company’s 2,700 employees from the South Tower before it collapses, Rescorla makes the ultimate sacrifice when he goes back into the building to search for stragglers. Heart of a Soldier is an opera about a hero who disdains that very term, and about his deep friendship with an American soldier, so unlike him in approach and yet so similar in dedication and bravery.
Renowned American baritone Thomas Hampson returns to San Francisco Opera as Rick Rescorla. In addition to creating the role of Valmont in the world premiere of Conrad Susa’s The Dangerous Liaisons, Hampson has previously performed with the Company as Figaro in The Barber of Seville, Ulysses in Il Ritorno d’Ulisse in Patria and in the title roles of Hamlet and Macbeth. A great champion of American song and music, Hampson recently received the Library of Congress’s “Living Legend” award, which recognizes individuals who have made significant contributions to America ’s diverse cultural, scientific, and social heritage.
Returning to San Francisco Opera after his most recent appearance as Tom Rakewell in The Rake’s Progress, William Burden is Rick Rescorla’s best friend, Daniel J. Hill. Burden has previously created roles in two other world premiere productions—Gilbert Griffiths in Tobias Picker’s An American Tragedy at the Metropolitan Opera and Dodge in Daron Hagen’s Amelia at the Seattle Opera. The American tenor made his San Francisco Opera debut as Count Lerma in Don Carlo and has also appeared as Janek in The Makropulos Case and Lindoro in L’Italiana in Algeri.
Former Adler Fellow Melody Moore creates the role of Susan Rescorla, Rick’s beloved wife. Moore has previously appeared with the Company as Mimì in La Bohème in 2008 as well as Countess Almaviva in Le Nozze di Figaro and Kate Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly. Career highlights include Mimì at English National Opera and Opera Cleveland; Countess Almaviva with Los Angeles Opera and Rita Clayton in the New York premiere of Stephen Schwartz’s Seance on a Wet Afternoon with New York City Opera.
“For nearly a decade I have been hoping to commission an opera from the brilliantly talented Christopher Theofanidis,” stated David Gockley. “When there finally was a window of opportunity at Houston Grand Opera, I changed jobs and preliminary plans for Heart of a Soldier had to be put on hold. Once in San Francisco, I felt the opportunity to commission this work in observation of the tenth anniversary of the tragic events of 9/11—and the commitment of Tom Hampson to create the lead role—gave the project critical mass. On the surface the piece is about what it takes to be a true hero, but what will drive the music is the passion, the suspense and the ultimate tragedy.”
Christopher Theofanidis explains: “Donna and I have spent time with Dan Hill and Susan Rescorla (Rick Rescorla’s widow) and we are honored to be involved with this project. The fact that it is a true story has made it very personal for both of us. This is fundamentally a deeply humanistic work, with an emphasis on Rick and Dan coming to understand who they are as people and then maximizing their potential. The essence of this comes from a sense of service to others and duty—the heart of a soldier. This nobility of spirit is transformed in the arc of the opera from Vietnam , where it kept Rick and Dan's troops together, to September 11th, when Rick went back into a building he knew was going to fall. Another theme resonating throughout the opera is how we honor and remember the dead, how we incorporate them into our own hearts and come to grips with great loss.”
“When I read James Stewart's true story of an unsung hero of 9/11, its epic themes of a warrior’s code of honor, intense bonds of loyalty, late-found love and overwhelming tragedy struck me as extremely theatrical,” said Francesca Zambello. “It also takes up ideas and ideals, morals and morality in the context of modern American lives. I have always wanted to create an opera based on a real life story and was very gratified when David Gockley agreed to develop this work with me.”