In yet another of many acclaimed homecomings, world-renowned baritone Thomas Hampson has returned to The City to prepare for an important world premiere.
Between engagements in Switzerland, Japan and New York’s Metropolitan Opera — where he will sing the title role of Verdi’s “Macbeth” he performed here three years ago — the 1980 Merola Program participant and star of numerous San Francisco Opera productions over three decades is here to sing in a new work marking the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
Hampson will create the role of Rick Rescorla in Christopher Theofanidis’ “Heart of a Soldier,” which opens Sept. 10 and runs in seven performances at the War Memorial Opera House.
Rescorla was a Vietnam veteran who died directing the successful evacuation of all 2,700 employees of Morgan Stanley when the World Trade Center collapsed on 9/11. The opera’s libretto, by Donna DiNovelli, is based on the 2002 book of the same title by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist James B. Stewart.
In the book, says Hampson, “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 captivating.”
The baritone’s passionate interest in new music, especially by American composers, also motivated him to undertake the project: “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.”
Another main character in the opera is Rescorla’s wife, Susan, whose memoir is being published in the fall. In the book “Touched By a Hero,” she writes about meeting Hampson, to find his physique “perfect” for the role. She says she was even more thrilled to discover the singer has the same type of charismatic personality as her late husband.
Researching the story, Hampson came to feel close to Rescorla, who loved singing. Hampson says, “In difficult situations, he’d quote poetry or break 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.
“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.”
Merola graduate Melody Moore portrays Susan Rescorla in the upcoming production. Other cast members include recent Merolini and Adler fellows Susannah Biller, Sara Gartland and Maya Lahyani. Tenor William Burden will sing the role of Rescorla’s friend, Daniel J. Hill.
San Francisco Opera principal guest conductor Patrick Summers will lead the orchestra. The stage director is company artistic adviser Francesca Zambello.
Presented by San Francisco Opera
Where: War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco
When: 8 p.m. Sept. 10, Sept. 27 and Sept. 30; 7:30 p.m. Sept. 13 and Sept. 21; 2 p.m. Sept. 18 and Sept. 24
Tickets: $26 to $330
Contact: (415) 864-3330, www.sfopera.com