Thursday, September 22, 2011

SF Opera: Heart of a Soldier

Heart of a SoldierWednesday night I saw San Francisco Opera's latest commission, Heart of a Soldier. It's based on James B. Stewart's journalistic biography of Rick Rescorla, a 9/11 hero who died in the World Trade Center. The performance began with the audience singing the Star Spangled Banner while looking at a huge projection of a waving American flag. The hour long 1st act covers 30 years of Mr. Rescorla's life, from his boyhood in Cornwall to his marriage in Dallas. The many characters, scene changes & multi-layered projections felt jammed together. Tenor William Burden makes an airborne entrance as paratrooper Dan Hill, drifting above the stage, Valkyrie-style. Extremely fit mercenaries cavort shirtless in a Rhodesian bar, there's a jungle battle in Vietnam, & a muezzin calls the faithful to prayer in the middle of a wedding scene. Though shorter, act II feels more expansive, covering Mr. Rescorla's middle-age romance with Susan Greer & the attack on the towers. We see Ms. Greer out jogging with a tail-wagging Golden Retriever, & this scene-stealing pooch got a round of applause when he exited chasing a ball. The collapse of the towers is staged powerfully & ends in a respectful near-silence.

The prose libretto by Donna Di Novelli has a lot of conversations but few places where the action stops operatically. The music by Christopher Theofanidis is harmonic yet modern-sounding. The orchestra under conductor Patrick Summers played crisply, especially in the jaunty, syncopated passages. The committed performances of the cast really sold the evening to me. Thomas Hampson's voice is fluffy, warm & without strain, & he was an endearing Rick. Tenor William Burden gave a naturalistic acting performance as Dan Hill, his voice secure, bright & smooth. Soprano Melody Moore as Susan Rescorla was similarly naturalistic & sang urgently & with strength. I also liked soprano Nadine Sierra's clear & youthful sound as a girl called Juliet, sending perfumed letters to her lover in Vietnam. I never felt I had to refer to the supertitles to be sure what she was saying. Bass-baritone Michael Sumuel gave an emotional performance as the recipient of her letters.

The audience seemed engaged by the opera & even laughed out loud at its humorous moments. Several in the orchestra level gave Mr. Hampson a standing ovation. During the intermission I peeked into the pit & was recognized by principal trumpet Adam Luftman. Fortunately he is friendly toward bloggers & confided with amazement, "That Opera Tattler, she goes to everything!"

§ Heart of a Soldier
Music by Christopher Theofanidis
Libretto By Donna Di Novelli
Based On The Book By James B. Stewart And The Life Stories Of Susan Rescorla, Rick Rescorla And Daniel J. Hill
Commissioned By San Francisco Opera

Conductor: Patrick Summers
Director: Francesca Zambello

Rick Rescorla: Thomas Hampson
Daniel J. Hill : William Burden
Susan Rescorla: Melody Moore
Juliet, Barbara: Nadine Sierra
Cyril: Henry Phipps
Imam: Mohannad Mchallah
Tom, Ted: Michael Sumuel
Lolita, Bridesmaid: Susannah Biller
Pat, Ann: Sara Gartland
Kathy, Bridesmaid: Maya Lahyani
Omaha, Robert: Ta'u Pupu'a
Dexter, Dex: Daniel Snyder
Joseph, Joe: Trevor Scheunemann
Sam, Wesley: Wayne Tigges
Buddy: Koa the Golden Retriever

Wed 09/21/11 7:30pm
War Memorial Opera House

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