"This is the violet hour, the hour of hush and wonder, when the affectations glow and valor is reborn, when the shadows deepen along the edge of the forest and we believe that, if we watch carefully, at any moment we may see the unicorn."

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Heart of a Soldier

Today is an anniversary I wish we didn't have to *celebrate* - but we do and we must. It may difficult for you to think that a *mere* Opera could do some little thing to alleviate the pain of loss and rememberance from one's heart.... but it happened for 3,000 of us in the Opera House last night.

Pictured above: Thomas Hampson, who portrays Rick Rescorla, Susan Rescorla, Rick's widow, and Dan Hill, Rick's best friend.

Left: The real Rick Rescorla in Vietnam, and Tom Hampson  on the right.

I have previously posted about the amazing team who began creating this project in 2006.... it all began with a book written by James B. Stewart, then it came to the attention of Francesca Zambello - a woman with a huge, loving heart, a razor-sharp, intuitive mind and an ability to make people *believe* that such a still-sensitive subject as 9/11 could be turned into an opera. Not just *any old* opera story - and not just a story about those who died, but also about two still-living people who played a vital role in Rick Rescorla's life.

So, about last night....  the house, though not a sellout, was very full - a combination of people in elegant evening attire, people in various branches of the Armed Forces, people in jeans - people of all ages and races.  There was a true *hum* of excitement in the air.....and also a little *hum* of fear....because the audience knew what the last act would show and people were afraid of still-raw emotions being ripped open.  Backstage, everyone was more nervous than for a *usual* opener....  lots of pacing, nervous laughter and hugging. I had been at all the rehearsals staged at the Opera House - this would be my 8th time seeing it...  but, I didn't have a *real* ticket....so I prepared to watch it backstage....then, our Chorus Master came over and gave me his ticket.  I ended up with a wonderful seat, next to the Maestro's wife.
As we did at the Final Dress, we all stood and sang our National Anthem. The curtain rose and it began.  It is a short opera - two hours, 10 minutes, with one intermission. But, it's enough time to reveal what made Rick Rescorla who he was....from a small boy in 1944 Cornwall, befriending the American GI's, to his becoming a soldier in Rhodesia, meeting Dan Hill, an American CIA Soldier (who makes his entrance parachuting - yes, really parachuting - while singing an aria), becoming an American Citizen and joining Dan in Vietnam - and saving his life. The men grow older, Rick marries, Dan converts to Islam, they part for a time.  The audience applauded, but apprehensively....for so many now, the words *Islam*, *Muslim* bring a cold chill.

For me, a mad dash backstage to ensure my team had all the food set out....people scrambling, eating, drinking (coffee and tea)...a few *how does it look from out front* questions - me - assuring everyone it looks fantastic.  Then, scrambling back to my seat before ACT II began.

Rick and Susan meet - and fall in love - almost at once.  She was 50, he was 58.  Both had been divorced and had given up on falling in love again.
Dan comes back into Rick's life....  their bond is stronger than ever - true friendship never dies..

Ultimately, the Towers are hit - people fall. people die, but Rick leads ALL 2,700 Morgan Stanley staff down 44 flights of stairs, singing...(true)...the main *Leitmotif* in the opera is based on an old Cornish song ' "Train Your Heart to Carry On"....it's hauntingly beautiful.....as the firemen arrive, Rick leads them back into the building and up, wanting to make sure he didn't leave anyone behind.  The scrim comes down over the Towers, papers fly from above all over the stage....Susan and Dan appear, alone, embrace... curtain down.

There was a stunned moment where no one did anything....then, as one, 3,000 people stood up, cheered, sobbed - they were really moved.  I turned round, looked up to the Box Seats, the Grand Tier, Dress Circle and Balcony - everyone was standing.  In all my years of attending Opera - I have never seen this.

A magnificent tribute to a brave man who really believed that saving one's fellow was more important than killing *the enemy*...  who believed LOVE was the ultimate weapon.  So, we go on, we remember the sadness - but we also remember the love - the courage to love....and it's something worth celebrating today - and forever.

The first released preview of some of the opera.


  1. this is so moving Robin. Your story of the premiere. So glad you got a seat too! and susan's story of her husband. And how the book and opera evolved from a New Yorker article. it is all wonderful. Thank you, blessings, Suki

  2. Can't comment now--crying from your words and have a 3 p.m. class---will come back to hear the music!
    BRAVA!!! BRAVA!!!
    You have successfully brought the opera home with words alone my friend.


  3. Stunning....absolutely stunning!
    What a company; what an amazing group of talent,and especially the sets...how I would love to be there in person!!!

    FBBBFF ♥♥♥

  4. Absolutely wonderful and what a tribute! A wonderful post and an amazing opera. I've been MIA on commenting recently and apologize but its lovely to go back and read your wonderful words and pictures.

    See you soon I hope and did you get my recent email? I've been having trouble with email so am just checking.

  5. Oh no... I am crying here!
    What a beautiful post and story!
    And what an amazing opera that must have been. How special that you were part of the whole process. I am so happy you had a good seat. You deserve that.
    Once again beautiful post dear.