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 historic War Memorial Opera House. San Francisco Opera Artistic Adviser 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 and costume designer Jess Goldstein.
A story 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 warrior 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 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 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.
Heart of a Soldier features a traditional orchestra with added elements including electric guitar and synthesizer, as well as a large choral presence. The score evokes contemporary idioms of American classical music along with Cornish ballads and 20th-century pop-rock influences. According to the work's composer, Christopher Theofanidis:
The tone is lyrical and has a great deal of humor woven throughout, which is part of the humanity these characters bring to the story. There are hints of music from very different circumstances here that run below the surface—music from the 1940s, rock of the 1960s, Cornish folksong and Islamic calls to prayer. However, the music stylistically strives to integrate and fuse these elements into the work.