“HEART OF A SOLDIER” – A Rapturous World Premiere At San Francisco Opera

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Sean Martinfield
Sentinel Editor and Publisher
Photo by Lynn Imanaka

Christopher Theofanidis’ long-awaited opera, HEART OF A SOLDIER, is a commanding theatrical achievement and a milestone in the future of American opera. Commissioned by San Francisco Opera at the behest of General Director David Gockley, the work is based on the 2003 book by James B.Stewart who became obsessed with the story of Rick Rescorla, security chief for the firm of Morgan Stanley and Dean Witter and the rescuer of its 2700 employees located in the South Tower of the World Trade Center. Librettist Donna Di Novelli has transformed this heroic account into the classic structures essential to grand opera. Heart of a Soldier is a true and now iconic story of honor, loyalty and integrity, of lifelong friendship and timeless love, set against the foreboding backdrop of the ultimate tragedy of September 11, 2001.

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THOMAS HAMPSON (Rick) — WILLIAM BURDEN (Dan)
All production photos by Cory Weaver

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MELODY MOORE (Susan) and THOMAS HAMPSON (Rick)

Francesca Zambello directs a brilliant cast headed by baritone Thomas Hampson as platoon leader, “Rick Rescorla”; tenor William Burden as his Army companion and lifelong friend, “Dan Hill”; and soprano Melody Moore as the love of his life, “Susan Rescorla”. Inspired projection designs by S. Katy Tucker – whose most recent work with SFOpera includes the 2011 production of Götterdämmerung – perfectly integrates the opera’s challenging series of episodes that range from Cornwall to Rhodesia, to the La Drang River Valley of Vietnam, and finally to the streets of Manhattan and the aerosphere between the twin towers of the World Trade Center.

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William Burden, Melody Moore and the SF Opera Chorus

The score by Christopher Theofanidis is continuously captivating. Centering on the hero, Rick Escorla, a native of Cornwall – whose soul is empowered by a love for music and singing as much as his heart is nurtured by the grueling measures of soldierly life – the composer is equally adept at nostalgic melody and the bravado of determined men at war. Strains of apprehension build in the sweaty jungle scene of Viet Nam where the unseen enemy lies in wait. A zesty harmony becomes a sunny spring day in New York where love – and man’s best friend, a dog named “Koa” – are just around the corner. An eeriness settles over the offices at Morgan Stanley as the well-drilled employees are led by Rick – “I’m going to save your ass!” – to the fleeting moments of safety on the streets below. The final orchestrations fade into a haze while bits of paper continue to fall as Dan and Susan realize they are being showered by all that remains of Rick and his love.

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William Burden (Dan Hill) and Melody Moore (Susan Rescorla)

Theofanidis requires powerhouse singers in the principal and featured roles and rewards them with arias and ensembles that will eventually wend their way into the concert hall. Revered American baritone Thomas Hampson is in remarkable form to handle the complexities of “Rick Escorla” whose story begins as a brazen young paratrooper in Cyprus and ends in middle age – perhaps, as the irritating “nudge” of a security official constantly pushing his limited authority – but whose off-duty time includes a vibrant and loving wife waiting for him at home. Former Adler Fellow, soprano Melody Moore, is the picture-perfect match for Thomas Hampson. Her voice is wonderfully rich and clear, she is a charismatic and provocative actress. Tenor William Burden as “Dan”, Rick’s beloved soldier-brother, embodies the force of a hero and the lyrical tone of a poet. That his character is persuaded into the prayer-life and orderliness of Islam, causing him to relocate for a while to Afghanistan, is totally convincing.

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William Burden and Mohannad Mchallah (Imam)

There are six more opportunities to see Heart of a Soldier.
Click on the date to order tickets on-line:

Tuesday, September 13, 7:30 pm
Sunday, September 18, 2 pm
Wednesday, September 21, 7:30 pm

Saturday, September 24, 2 pm
Tuesday, September 27, 8 pm
Friday, September 30, 8 pm

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Seán Martinfield
Sentinel Editor and Publisher
Seán Martinfield, who also serves as Fine Arts Critic, is a native San Franciscan. He is a Theatre Arts Graduate from San Francisco State University, a professional singer, and well-known private vocal coach to Bay Area actors and singers of all ages and persuasions. His clients have appeared in Broadway National Tours including Wicked, Aïda, Miss Saigon, Rent, Bye Bye Birdie, in theatres and cabarets throughout the Bay Area, and are regularly featured in major City events including Diva Fest, Gay Pride, and Halloween In The Castro. As an Internet consultant in vocal development and audition preparation he has published thousands of responses to those seeking his advice concerning singing techniques, professional and academic auditions, and careers in the Performing Arts. Mr. Martinfield’s Broadway clients have all profited from his vocal methodology, “The Belter’s Method”. If you want answers about your vocal technique, post him a question on AllExperts.com. If you would like to build up your vocal performance chops and participate in the Bay Area’s rich theatrical scene, e-mail him at: sean.martinfield@comcast.net.

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