San Francisco opera depicts life of 9/11 hero

As America prepared to remember the attacks on the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, one hero in particular was remembered through the art of opera on the eve of Sept. 11.

The world premiere of “Heart of a Soldier” came to life on the San Francisco Opera stage to honor British-born war veteran Rick Rescorla, then-head of security at Morgan Stanley whose heroic actions spared the lives of 2,700 people on Sept. 11. Rescorla assisted occupants in evacuating the South Tower of the World Trade Center despite orders to remain inside the building.

“It was hard for me to enjoy it until the end,” said composer Christopher Theofanidis as the energized crowd filed out of the San Francisco Opera House. “But I think it was a very good first run.”

The arduous role of Rescorla was played by acclaimed baritone Thomas Hampson who demonstrated an ability to master the dichotomy of coarse dialogue and a complex arrangement of music.

Hampson was joined by tenor William Burden as Rescorla’s lifelong friend and comrade Daniel Hill. Rescorla and Hill are shown in a famous wrestling match while on duty in Rhodesia where they first became friends.

“Who’s ready to wrestle the strongest man in Rhodesia?” Hampson belted during the performance, answered by Burden’s playful “I’m ready to wrestle the second strongest man in Rhodesia!”

“I love the sets!” said one patron during the intermission after several particularly striking Vietnam war scenes.

The scenes depicting Rescorla during his military service in Vietnam were filled with flashing lights and a curtain of foliage for the swampy areas. The sets changed seamlessly and slid across the floor without upsetting the flow of the story.

The props depicting the Twin Towers were comprised of LiteSteel structural beams, each tower weighing a total of 16,000 pounds.

During the dramatization of the aircraft hitting the North tower, hundreds of pieces of paper fell to the floor, creating the desolate atmosphere and accenting the panic of Rescorla’s charges in the South Tower.

An emotional phone conversation between Rescorla and his wife, Susan Greer-Rescorla, takes place as he tells her “You made my life” before re-entering the tower to check that all had been evacuated, never to be seen again.

“It’s a powerful story,” said opera librettist Tiziana DellaRovere after the performance. “No matter what we thought, it was a landmark piece.”