On the eve of the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, the San Francisco Opera presented the world premiere of a work based on the life of 9/11 hero Rick Rescorla. Heart of a Soldier, by American composer Christopher Theofanidis and librettist Donna DiNovelli, is based on the Pulitzer-Prize winning book about Rescorla by James B. Stewart and on the lives of Rick, his wife Susan and his friend Dan Hill, who are portrayed on the stage.
The opera takes us through Rick’s life, from his boyhood in England, where he met U.S. GIs preparing to fight in Europe, through his service in the Vietnam War and his final job as the Vice President of Security at Morgan Stanley/Dean-Witter at the World Trade Center on the day of the attacks. Rick had long anticipated and prepared for the kind of event that would necessitate rapid evacuation. When the attacks came, Rick led people to safety and is credited with saving some 2,700 lives; he died when he went back into the building to look for stragglers.
Here is a preview of the Opera, which features baritone Thomas Hampson as Rick:
Director Francesca Zambello was drawn to the story of Rescorla and his relationships with his wife and with his friend, Dan Hill. She notes, “These two soldiers connected over shared beliefs in duty, loyalty, and integrity—like something out of Homer or Euripides.” Rick came to love late in life when he found Susan, whom he married just two years before he died. Zambello describes the universal appeal and relevance of this new opera:
“In addition to love, a powerful story requires an antagonist. And in this case, it’s history. The Invasion of Normandy, Beirut, Vietnam, Afghanistan, September 11 — these serve as the lens through which we see Rick, Dan, and Susan struggle and ultimately transform. So this is not Vietnam opera or a 9/11 opera; this is an opera about love, the nature of heroism, and how we remember those we’ve lost.”
Music for Healing and Remembrance
It is delicate and difficult to create a work about such recent and painful events. The audience at the end of the first performance gave fervent applause for Heart of a Soldier. Composer Theofanidis had earlier expressed uncertainty about how it would be received, telling an interviewer, “You risk a lot by engaging this subject… But do you talk about something that’s really serious to you or not?”
Heart of a Soldier is just one of many classical music tributes to the events of 9/11. For his new work WTC 9/11, composer Steve Reich weaves in the “speech melody” of actual audio recordings, including air traffic controllers and firefighters on 9/11 and people speaking of the day years later. The piece, performed by Kronos Quartet, can be heard online here.
The New York Philharmonic will commemorate the events with a performance of Gustav Mahler’s monumental Second Symphony, titled Resurrection, in a concert to be broadcast live on PBS on September 11. Check local listings or see the orchestra’s website for webcast details.
Musical performances can help us memorialize, celebrate and heal. However you remember the 10th anniversary of 9/11, may music help you find peace.
Photo: Thomas Hampson and Melody Moore in Heart of a Soldier by Cory Weaver, via sfopera.com