I was fortunate enough to see the world premiere of this opera last night, and now that I’m writing about it on the tenth anniversary of the Sep. 11 attacks, it makes the whole event seem that much more real and the art that much more meaningful.
Based on the book of the same name by James B. Stewart, Heart of a Soldier tells the story of Rick Rescorla, a Cornish-born soldier who fought as an American in the Vietnam War and used the same militaristic strategy and sense of humor to get 2,700 people out of the World Trade Center safely during the Sep. 11 attacks. During the course of the opera, Rescorla sings “all the real heroes are dead”. Though he had very heroic moments in Vietnam, his self-professed ‘real hero’ status was achieved when he went back into the crumbling World Trade Center for one last sweep… and never emerged.
Several operas of recent years have been written by American composers in the hopes of being ‘the great American opera’ – one that speaks to the core of American values with accessible music that resonates with a large audience. I believe that Heart of a Soldier will prove itself to be in contention for this title. The subject matter alone strikes interest in the hearts of Americans, but in combination with a powerful (but still recognizably contemporary classical) score and a great American artist in the title role (the illustrious Thomas Hampson), the makings of a future standard are already at work. Yes, the score contains the typical elements of a Classical or Romantic Era opera (drinking song, large chorus, epic love duet), but these sections are executed in a way that makes them distinctly contemporary, and, even more than that, contemporary American music. Future composers, take note: if you want to perfectly combine the forms of old-school opera with the sound of modern music, look no further than this opera.
In terms of singing, the performance is largely driven by Mr. Hampson, who gives a winning turn as Rick Rescorla. The role gives Hampson lots of room to play with different sides of the same coin; at one moment, he is proving his masculine mettle against his future best friend (Daniel J. Hill, sung by the delightfully steely-voiced tenor William Burden), the next, pulling out all the charisma he can muster to woo the beautiful Susan Greer/Rescorla (portrayed with great warmth and humor by soprano Melody Moore). Hampson’s lyric baritone voice is capable of both unshakable confidence and sweet, sweet tenderness. After finishing his Act II aria, I remember thinking to myself, “This is an artist”.
I mentioned it during my Opera Challenge, but I admire Mr. Hampson not just for his wonderful stage presence, but for his contributions to the academic side of music. I had posted a link to the Marquis di Posa essay he wrote a while back, and I’m glad to have found another essay written by Hampson regarding Heart of a Soldier. As if you needed any more incentive to see this opera, the same honesty and heart that is apparent in this essay also translates to Hampson’s portrayal of Rick Rescorla on the stage. Click here to read the article from The Guardian.
Heart of a Soldier (Christopher Theofanidis & Donna Di Novelli)
Cast Includes: Thomas Hampson (Rick Rescorla), Melody Moore (Susan Rescorla), William Burden (Daniel J. Hill)
Conducted by Patrick Summers
Directed by Francesca Zambello
Performance Dates: Sep. 13 (7:30 pm), Sep. 18 (2 pm), Sep. 21 (7:30 pm), Sep. 24 (2 pm), Sep. 27 (8 pm), Sep. 30 (8 pm)
Venue: War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco (301 Van Ness Avenue)
For More Information: http://sfopera.com/Season-Tickets/2011-2012-Season/Heart-of-a-Soldier.aspx