Hampson to portray 9/11 hero in world premiere opera

Thomas Hampson’s 2011-12 season will begin on September 10 at San Francisco Opera, where he will create the role of Rick Rescorla in the world premiere of Christopher Theofanidis’s Heart of a Soldier. The new opera (seven performances through September 30), commemorating the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, features a libretto by Donna Di Novelli and is directed by Francesca Zambello. Based on the 2002 book by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist James B. Stewart, the opera is inspired by the true story of Rescorla, his wife, Susan, and his friend Daniel J. Hill, culminating in Rescorla’s tragic death in the collapse of the South Tower of the World Trade Center following his heroic evacuation of all 2,700 employees of Morgan Stanley. “This role is a great challenge and I feel honored – and very motivated – to meet it,” says Hampson.

For Hampson, there were three principal reasons to take on this new role:

First, this opera prompts us to think about what the world is like post-9/11, ten years on. Second, it tells a moving personal story of a genuine hero: this not an opera out to make a political statement, but rather one that celebrates how ordinary people can do extraordinary things under exceptional circumstances. In the James Stewart book, the enormous personal integrity of the main character literally jumped off the pages at me; this identity forged by a host of experiences, including the Vietnam War, was very captivating indeed. Finally, I am passionately interested in new music, especially works by American composers, whom I have championed throughout my career. I think very highly of the music of Christopher Theofanidis and am excited to be a part of his first large-scale opera. His music for Heart of a Soldier is swift and rhythmic and very accessible, and I believe that audiences will find it enormously compelling.

In his preparation for the role, Hampson has spoken extensively with Susan Rescorla, whom Hampson first met in New York City this winter. “I immediately told Tom how his build was perfect for the role of Rick Rescorla,” Susan notes in Touched By a Hero, her memoir to be published this fall. “As we talked I was even more thrilled: he definitely has the same type of charismatic personality that Rick had.”

In Susan Rescorla’s forthcoming book, Hampson speaks in detail about his attraction to the person – and character – of Rick Rescorla:

I love the fact that he took creative writing courses and loved singing. Yet when a situation becomes difficult, whether during the horrifying battles in Vietnam or on 9/11, he quotes lines of poetry, or breaks out into a Cornwall song. I suppose a tune would come to his mind that centered him and in turn the people around him, so they could withstand the kind of horrors that would have made the rest of us crumble. He found a way to galvanize this zone of thought that enabled him to rise to extraordinary heights. This warrior, husband, statesman, strong guy, literature-loving man had the heart of a soldier. It’s the poetry, the words, the symbols, the sounds and the music that kept him going, centered his life.

In addition to Heart of a Soldier, Hampson’s other opera engagements in the 2011-12 season include Iago in Verdi’s Otello and the title role in Hindemith’s Mathis der Mahler, both at Zurich Opera, and Verdi’s Macbeth at New York’s Metropolitan Opera.

Other highlights in the new season include the National Symphony Orchestra’s opening-night gala concert with Christoph Eschenbach, marking the orchestra’s 80th and the Kennedy Center’s 40th anniversaries; Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde with the Munich Philharmonic and Zubin Mehta; Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Gustavo Dudamel; Brahms’s A German Requiem and Dvořák’s Biblical Songs with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and Manfred Honeck; Richard Danielpour’s Come Up from the Fields, Father with the Manhattan School of Music Orchestra; and recitals in Spain, the U.S., Germany, Switzerland and Austria, including “Song of America” programs in New York and Cologne. In October 2011, Hampson will debut a syndicated “Song of America” radio series, co-produced by the Hampsong Foundation and the WFMT Radio Network of Chicago. The series, part of Hampson’s ongoing “Song of America” project, consists of 13 one-hour programs exploring the history of American culture through song. (Details about the series will follow in a subsequent news release.)

Hampson is currently at the Zurich Opera finishing a run of performances as Amfortas in Wagner’s Parsifal; he returns to the U.S. this month for “Song of America” recitals in Winona, Minnesota (July 14 and 15), which will be broadcast by American Public Media’s Performance Today this fall. Other engagements for Hampson this summer include performances of Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder and Rückert-Lieder under the direction of Fabio Luisi at the Pacific Music Festival in Japan (July 30 and 31 in Sapporo; August 3 in Tokyo).