It doesn't seem like 10 years since terrorists attacked and killed thousands here in America. Each year, I dedicate a post to the memory of those murdered on 9/11 (including three of my friends). By 2010 I thought I'd run out of things to say--but, it happens, not out of things to sing.
Many NOfP readers may not be opera fans. I am, though it's an old-fashioned art. Indeed, of post WWII operas, I think only two are good enough to become part of the standard repertory--Corigliano's Ghosts of Versailles and Adams's Nixon in China (mainly for its first act). Simply put, modern operas mostly stink; today, musicals are better.
An opera premiered last night that I hope will be an exception. I've previously posted about 9/11 hero, and warrior, Rick Rescorla. Yesterday, that story took the stage in San Francisco, in a new opera called "Heart of a Soldier":
What makes a hero? The question was never an academic one for Rick Rescorla, a British-born adventurer who fought in Vietnam before settling in New York as head of security for a brokerage firm based in the World Trade Center. On September 11, 2001, his extraordinary courage and calmness in a crisis paid off: Rescorla led all of the 2,700 people under his care to safety--literally singing them down the stairs--before heading back into the burning building for one last check. He never emerged.Lead singer Thomas Hampson writes:
To commemorate the 10th anniversary of the devastating terrorist attacks, San Francisco Opera presents the world premiere of Heart of a Soldier, which tells the dramatic story of Rescorla’s extraordinary life. The Company’s latest commission features a dynamic and soulful score by Christopher Theofanidis, "one of the world’s most sought-after living composers" (Seattle Times). Baritone Thomas Hampson, renowned for his "clarion power and burnished tone" (Los Angeles Times), sings the role of Rick Rescorla in this story of enduring friendship and late-found love. Tenor William Burden is Daniel J. Hill, Rescorla’s best friend and fellow soldier, and soprano Melody Moore portrays Susan, Rescorla’s wife and soul mate.
I was asked to sing the role of Rescorla, and I started finding out about his story and what made him the man he was. He fought in Vietnam, and he never got over losing any of those young men serving under him. The responsibility he felt towards them was one of the life experiences that shaped how he responded on 9/11.I'm thrilled at the idea of spreading Rescorla's story of duty and love. Of course, like most modern operas, it could backfire badly--I haven't yet read a review of the premiere. But, given the subject, I'm hopeful. Especially since Riscorla's marching song was a version of "Men of Harlech" from the great movie Zulu.
Rescorla was adamant that people should be disciplined and prepared for the unknown eventualities of their lives. You learn to drive better because you never know what another driver is going to do; when you work in a 115-storey building you have fire drills -- and you have them frequently. That's what Rick did. And because of that discipline -- that attention to technical and mundane detail, and that belief in people -- nearly 3,000 people didn't die.
The closest comparison I can make to an existing opera is William Tell -- which, incidentally, is the only opera I've done before with Zambello. It's the same kind of story: about family, about hearth and homeland under attack by intruders, and how we have to stand up for people.
Rescorla wasn't a goody-two-shoes, but he understood -- and lived according to the belief -- that at the defining moments in your life you simply do the right thing. He gave people tremendous faith in themselves, and he liked doing that. It's an honour for me to try to find the footsteps of this character I have come to admire so much.
Not moping or apologizing but singing: a good way to spend today.
The New York Times pans it; the LA Times says it was "emotional manipulation" and "obvious." The SF Chronicle calls it, "Dramatically lumpy and struggling with an adrenalized but often talky score, the piece touches on a variety of emotional hot spots without ever quite bringing them into focus."