Heart of a Soldier

SF Opera's Heart of a Soldier Media Round-Up

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Reviews of San Francisco Opera's Heart of a Soldier (Melody Moore as Susan Rescorla and Koa the Golden Retriever as Buddy pictured left, photo by Cory Weaver) are, to put it gently, decidedly mixed.

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Heart of a Soldier World Premiere

Heart-of-a-soldier-act-ii * Notes * 
The world premiere of Heart of a Soldier (Act II pictured left, photograph by Cory Weaver) given by San Francisco Opera last night. The opera is about the life of Rick Rescorla, the director of security of Morgan Stanley who lost his life as the in the September 11th attacks after evacuating 2,700 people from the World Trade Center. The first half of this ambitious work covers 28 years of Rescorla's story, with five different scene changes spanning four continents. The act is only an hour long, so it is great deal of narrative jammed into a tiny space. Basically, this means a lot of recitative and the need for quick scene changes. Librettist Donna Di Novelli's words seem to take precedence over composer Christopher Theofanidis' music. The second half deals with Rescorla's last three years in New Jersey and New York. Here the ensembles, duets, and arias are less burdened by having to tell the story. The ending was particularly strong.

Director Francesca Zambello's style suits this opera, as the characters are of course very human, being based on real events of recent memory. The set, designed by Peter J. Davison, has some movement, but is transformed by Mark McCullough's lighting and S. Katy Tucker's projections. The result was mostly a success, though sometimes the layering seemed overwrought. Also, having the towers so far upstage was a challenge for some of the singers. The choreography seemed natural, everyone moved nicely and with ease.

Maestro Patrick Summers had the orchestra sounding clear and flowing. The chorus sounded together and robust. The rest of the cast boasted many fine singers. Michael Sumuel (Ted, Tom) sang with warmth and nuance. Nadine Sierra was plaintive as Juliet. Melody Moore was convincing as Susan Rescorla, her voice clear-toned and arresting. William Burden too was persuasive as Rescorla's best friend, his duets with Thomas Hampson (Rick Rescorla) were quite beautiful. Hampson sang enthusiastically, and his charismatic presence is commanding.

* Tattling * 
The evening began with "The Star-Spangled Banner," and a fluttering American flag was projected on the scrim. The audience was impressively quiet, there was no late seating on the orchestra level, and almost no whispering.

Heart of a Soldier Press Conference

01122010 003 * Notes * 
Today the Communications Department of San Francisco Opera held a press conference on Heart of a Soldier, which will have a world premiere on September 10, 2011. General Director David Gockley told us a bit about how this came to be an opera. An array of individuals were introduced: Susan Rescorla, one of the people whose story is being told in this opera; James B. Stewart, the author of the non-fiction work the opera is based on; librettist Donna DiNovelli; composer Christopher Theofanidis; conductor Patrick Summers; and director Francesca Zambello. Zambello evidently came to Gockley with Stewart's book, saying that the story had operatic themes with two incredible love stories.

This was followed by a panel discussion moderated by Kip Cranna, who asked each person involved a few key questions. DiNovelli condensed Stewart's 320 page book into a mere 26. The piece is complete and has been workshopped in the last few days. Theofanidis took Tosca as his starting point and loves verismo. The work uses a full orchestra but also employs saxophone, bagpipe, and electric guitar.

The opera stars Thomas Hampson (Rick Rescorla), William Burden (Daniel J. Hill), and Melody Moore (Susan Rescorla). We got to hear a duet from the piece accompanied by piano, sung by Melody Moore and Austin Kness.

* Tattling * 
The audience consist of the press, board members, colleagues from other performing arts organizations, and San Francisco Opera staff. Everyone seemed very attentive.