Real-life vet's story inspires a '9/11 opera'

On Tuesday, Pearl Harbor Day, San Francisco Opera announced commissioning “Heart of a Soldier,” an opera commemorating 9/11. Although it’s a coincidence, the dates link two great national disasters.

San Francisco Opera General Director David Gockley — who has a nearly four-decade-long record of commissioning new operas — has hired Peabody Conservatory faculty member Christopher Theofanidis to compose a work about Rick Rescorla, a previously unknown hero at Ground Zero.

Slated to premiere in the War Memorial Opera House on Sept. 10, 2011, the eve of the 10th anniversary of 9/11,  when Rescorla died under heroic circumstances — “Heart of a Soldier” will feature baritone Thomas Hampson, Francesca Zambello as stage director and Patrick Summers as music director.

The opera’s seven performances are made possible, in part, by sponsors John A. and Cynthia Fry Gunn, with additional funding from an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.

“For nearly a decade,” says Gockley, who then ran the Houston Grand Opera, “I have been hoping to commission an opera from the brilliantly talented Christopher Theofanidis. Once in San Francisco, I felt the opportunity to commission this work in observation of the 10th anniversary of the tragic events of 9/11.

“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.”

The opera is based on the book of the same name by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist James B. Stewart, and the stories of Rescorla, his wife Susan, and an American soldier Dan Hill, who had a major role in their lives. Donna DiNovelli is the librettist.

Rescorla was an immigrant from Cornwall, England, who became a decorated platoon leader during the Vietnam War. On Sept. 11, 2001, he was head of security for Morgan Stanley at One World Trade Center. He led the evacuation all of his company’s 2,700 employees from the South Tower before it collapsed, then went back into the building to search for others, and died there.

Theofanidis describes the work’s tone as lyrical, with “a great deal of humor woven throughout, which is part of the humanity these characters bring to the story.”

The music includes tunes from the 1940s, rock of the 1960s, Cornish folksongs and Islamic calls to prayer (because Hill converted to Islam and went to fight for the U.S. in Afghanistan).

Theofanidis, whose works have been performed by orchestras around the world, says his music “stylistically strives to integrate and fuse elements into the work.”

Peter J. Davison is set designer, Jess Goldstein is responsible for the costumes. Hampson will sing the role of Rescorla, former Adler Fellow Melody Moore will sing Susan and William Burden will sing Dan Hill.

artsbooksentertainmentSan FranciscoSan Francisco Opera

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

Advocates with the San Francisco Public Bank Coalition hold a rally outside City Hall before the Board of Supervisors were to vote on a resolution supporting the creation of a public banking charter on Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Should San Francisco run its own public bank? The debate returns

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, momentum was building for San Francisco to… Continue reading

Apprenticeship instructor Mike Miller, center, demonstrates how to set up a theodolite, a hyper-sensitive angle measuring device, for apprentices Daniel Rivas, left, Ivan Aguilar, right, and Quetzalcoatl Orta, far right, at the Ironworkers Local Union 377 training center in Benicia on June 10, 2021. (Photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters)
California’s affordable housing crisis: Are labor union requirements in the way?

By Manuela Tobias CalMatters California lawmakers introduced several bills this year that… Continue reading

People fish at a dock at Islais Creek Park on Thursday, June 10, 2021. (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)
What Islais Creek tells us about rising sea levels in San Francisco

Islais Creek is an unassuming waterway along San Francisco’s eastern industrial shoreline,… Continue reading

Organizer Jas Florentino, left, explains the figures which represent 350 kidnapped Africans first sold as slaves in the United States in 1619 in sculptor Dana King’s “Monumental Reckoning.” The installation is in the space of the former Francis Scott Key monument in Golden Gate Park. (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)
What a reparations program would look like in The City

‘If there’s any place we can do it, it’s San Francisco’

Officer Joel Babbs, pictured at a protest outside the Hall of Justice in 2017, is representing himself in an unusually public police misconduct matter. <ins>(Courtesy Bay City News)</ins>
The strange and troubling story of Joel Babbs: What it tells us about the SFPD

The bizarre and troubling career of a whistle-blowing San Francisco police officer… Continue reading

Most Read