If you ever wanted to
see hear the 2011 opera Heart of a Soldier, based on the true story of Rick Rescorla…
It’s on YouTube, believe it or not. In its entirety. Possibly not for long.
It starts with an opera, recitativo chorus version of a jody! Heh!
Act One’s first scene is Rick as a kid, meeting US soldiers during his childhood. So that’s why the boy soprano.
The second scene is Rick in Rhodesia, meeting Dan Hill, who becomes his best friend.
The third scene is both of them in US soldier training (because they came in as officers) and in Vietnam, so of course the opera has to show them becoming disillusioned. (Like Rhodesia wouldn’t do that.) So you can probably fast forward past some of the beginning of this, no great loss, though there’s a reprise of the heart training song from the first scene. There is a one-minute aria somewhere in the middle by the medic Tom’s girlfriend, singing about sending her guy a letter, but the orchestration isn’t great. The aria is echoed later on by the medic and the other guys, and much more beautifully. (Um, dude, not fair.) There’s a reprise of the lion aria from earlier, which again is actually more beautiful than the first time. There’s a much longer song for Juliet about praying that Tom will come home, marred by unnecessary nasty tones. Then there’s a nice recitative for Rick from Chandler’s “Down these mean streets” essay. Then there’s a duet that never goes anywhere.
Last scene in Act One, Rescorla gets married to his girlfriend. There’s a song about being a soldier’s wife, and a song about how it’s no fun to get back from Vietnam and have people spit on you. As to ways of dealing with the transition to civilian life, Hill flashes back to his recent conversion to Islam during the longest freaking aria in this entire opera so far, and then there’s a muezzin singing the call to prayer or something. Oooookay. I guess it’s okay to check the box that not everybody Islamic is evil, but in the middle of a wedding, or the end of Act One?
That’s an hour. So you can skip the first hour if you like.
Second act starts in the US, Rescorla meeting his second wife. Um, seriously? Not classy to have a wedding and then the meet-cute. And I like his second wife. But you have to pick one or the other as your symbolism. Why show the first wedding at all?
Next scene, Rescorla argues that the Tower evacuation procedures aren’t sufficient. There’s a lot about how he drilled people so they could get out.
Then it’s all 9/11 all the time, until the end of the opera.
It’s fun to listen to an opera in English that isn’t all in some crazy twelve-tone. It does go a little Wagner oompah for no good reason, early on. (I mean, seriously, you’ve got to have somewhere to go, and a childhood story should be a little lighter than what’s coming.) There’s also a ton of Ominous Music during scenes that don’t really need it, and very seldom do they actually get away from recitative or speech and just sing an aria.
OTOH, it is at least trying to do something beautiful and heroic and interesting, instead of the usual godforsaken modern historical opera of boredom. The singers are excellent, and do their best with rather difficult material. It’s a lot harder to speak-sing for an hour and a half than to sing some good songs and actually have emotional release and such.
But yeah, it’s painfully obvious that the composer was desperate not to do any hummable melody for more than two seconds, or to suffer any comparison with a musical or a traditional opera. Even though it was painfully obvious that he could have done something really memorable.
OTOH, it seems to me that there’s room for a slight remix that would make it more audience-friendly and less headache-inducing. Like a lot of modern stuff, it just seems like it’s not a final draft – everything is very polished and organized, but it’s not an organization that makes sense for the audience. Composers of modern musicals don’t seem to have nearly this much trouble with format.
This is an opera with a lot of heart. It just needs to get the beat together.