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Heart of a Soldier Exclusive Interviews: September 9, 2011

Theofanidis: Symphony No. 1
Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, Robert Spano

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Rel. 7 Jun 2011

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Heart of a Soldier
From August 27-29, 2011, Classical Archives Artistic Director Nolan Gasser spoke with three key figures behind the latest San Francisco Opera world premiere, Heart of a Soldier, opening on Saturday, September 10: David Gockley, the General Director of SF Opera, who commissioned the work; its composer, Christopher Theofanidis; and its star vocalist, baritone Thomas Hampson. Heart of a Soldier – commissioned to commemorate the 10th Anniversary of 9/11 – tells the life story of Rick Rescorla, a security director who saved over 2700 people in the South Tower of the World Trade Center after the planes hit: his roots in Cornwall, his service in Vietnam, his deep friendship with soldier Dan Hill, and his sweet late-life romance with Susan Greer. The opera is gaining a rare flurry of attention for a premiere, not surprising given the sensitivity of the topic. Collectively, these three conversations illuminate the origins, production, creation, and performance of this new opera – in a unique and very compelling manner. Our feature also includes an introductory article by Nolan Gasser and a special 1-Click concert (full streams for subscribers only), containing a mix of works appropriate to the memory of September 11. This is a fascinating look at an important creative venture of our time – don’t miss it!

“One of the questions that became the focus of the opera is: how do you remember the fallen? If there is a way of putting the ‘big picture’ of this opera into the context of September 11, it very much addresses that question.”
– Christopher Theofanidis, composer

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Remembering the Fallen… The Operatic Big Picture

San Francisco Opera’s Premiere of Theofanidis’ Heart of a Soldier

Nolan Gasser, Artistic Director, Classical Archives

September 12, 2011

After 39 years as General Director of two major American opera companies, David Gockley has mastered the art of patience – and particularly when it comes to mounting a world premiere. “It’s common that these things have gestations of five, six, or seven years,” he stated casually in our conversation on August 27. And with 37 world premieres behind him – 35 while at Houston Grand Opera and 2 since arriving at San Francisco Opera in 2006 – he should know. As much as any opera administrator of his generation, Gockley has championed the cause of expanding the operatic repertory with new works by leading American composers – in the process introducing such seminal additions as Leonard Bernstein’s A Quiet Place (1983), John Adams’ Nixon in China (1987), and Stewart Wallace’s Harvey Milk (1995). On September 10, 2011, Gockley continued his legacy with a new premiere, Christopher Theofanidis’ Heart of a Soldier, a grand operatic gesture to commemorate the 10th Anniversary of 9/11.

I spoke with Mr. Gockley exactly two weeks before the slated premiere, followed over the next two days by conversations with composer Christopher Theofanidis and baritone Thomas Hampson – who sings the title role of Rick Rescorla, the 9/11 hero whose life story the opera unfolds. These three – Gockley, Theofanidis, and Hampson – struck me as an ideal triumvirate to properly understand this ambitious yet sensitive enterprise, representing as they do the essential realms of production, composition, and performance required to birth the opera. As the Artistic Director of Classical Archives, I’ve had the privilege of interviewing dozens of top tier artists, composers, and arts administrators – but never before had I conducted three separate conversations around a single theme. Such an unusual tack seemed appropriate in this case given both the monumentality of the occasion the opera addresses – the attacks of September 11, 2001 – and the interest due to the creation of a high-profile premiere by a major American opera company in 2011. The result is a dynamic and interlocking view of the byzantine world of opera genesis: the inspirations, the stops and starts, the collaborative exchanges, the catalysts, the risks, the creative challenges, the hopes and dreams, the media’s fickle feedback, and the wealth of tangential contexts it evokes – from 9/11 and Vietnam to friendship and late-found love.

My best recommendation to grasp the vision, tenacity, and labor required to create Heart of a Soldier is to read, in sequence, the three interviews with Misters Gockley, Theofanidis, and Hampson [in individual tabs on this page]. First, though, a quick summary of the principal issues and personnel involved will serve as a helpful introduction. The source of the opera Heart of a Soldier is the eponymous 2002 book by acclaimed author / journalist James B. Stewart, relaying the life story of Rick Rescorla, a British-born US Army officer and security chief for Morgan Stanley in New York – who is credited with saving over 2700 lives on September 11, 2001 by implementing evacuation procedures he himself had devised for the World Trade Center, and who died while searching for stragglers. Stewart’s book expands the harrowing tale of 9/11 with episodes of Rescorla’s childhood in Cornwall (where in 1944 he met US soldiers preparing for D-Day), his military service in Rhodesia and Vietnam, his close friendship with fellow-soldier Dan Hill, and the fairy-tale love he found at age 58 with Susan Greer. The notion of transforming this book into an opera first occurred to celebrated opera director Francesca Zambello, who knew Stewart socially; she shared the idea with long-time collaborator David Gockley, who immediately saw the potential. Gockley tapped American composer Christopher Theofanidis to write the music; and Zambello suggested librettist Donna DiNovelli. Initial work devising the opera was interrupted in 2005 when Gockley moved from Houston to San Francisco, and was revived the next year when Gockley engaged the interest in Thomas Hampson to sing the lead role – and especially as Gockley saw the potential of a premiere to commemorate the 10th Anniversary of 9/11. The present production stars Thomas Hampson as Rick Rescorla, tenor William Burton as Dan Hill, and soprano Melody Moore as Susan; it is directed by Francesca Zambello, with the orchestra conducted by Patrick Summers.

There are many interesting insights gained by the three individual conversations: the involved creative input of Mr. Gockley (“I do insert myself, and look to the experience that I've had over the years with these premieres, and especially with a less-experienced team like this.”), the notable effect that the five-year delay had in altering Mr. Theofanidis’ approach to the opera (“Initially, we had idea of trying to create the sense of time running out, by actually framing the opera from the time of the first hit to the fall of the second building, and that would have essentially created a 75-minute opera.”), and the profound connection Mr. Hampson made to the character he portrayed (“I’ve learned a lot from Rick Rescorla – I like this guy; I would have learned greater self-understanding and self-discipline had I been one of his soldiers.”). But what they all shared was an overriding belief in the project, that it had to be done now, and further, that it’s potential to impact the audience was significant, as Mr. Theofanidis noted, “It’s going to be very meaningful and bring people together – and in the best sense of what opera is capable of: creating the kind of story that is more relatable to folks than is a symphony. People from a broader swathe of culture will have a point of access to this story across various dimensions: the soldier aspect, the 9/11 aspect, the love story aspect, first responders, etc. – their basic humanity brings them to the project in a way that they wouldn't have otherwise with an opera.”

The most engaging and entertaining of the three conversations is that with Mr. Hampson, who seems to have greatly relished the experience of premiering this opera, perhaps as much as any he’s done. As our conversation demonstrates, the opera’s storyline easily becomes a touchstone to other sensitive and provocative topics – notably the Vietnam War and the deplorable treatment of our veterans; obvious too is how fitting a selection Mr. Hampson was for the complex and inspiring role of Rick Rescorla – indeed, it’s hard to imagine a more ideal casting in terms of temperament and eloquence. It’s also hard to leave the conversation with Mr. Hampson without becoming a champion of the new opera, given his praise of Mr. Theofanidis’ music and the rich collaborative efforts of the entire team and cast, and especially his admiration for the grand themes of heroism, love, and friendship that the opera confronts and will challenge us to consider: “It’s going to be a conversation piece. I believe it's going to be a very moving, dramatic evening, and people are going to respond to some parts of the opera more than others. But one thing that you're not going to see is people walking out of the opera house saying, ‘Oh, okay, well whatever.’ That's not going to happen.”

Mr. Hampson also confirmed – as did the other two interlocutors – that the opera had brazenly taken on some painful and tender issues of our time, and thus offers the prospect of the kind of cathartic experience that art alone can provide, as Aristotle teaches us. How successful it has been in this endeavor – or in creating a good operatic experience, is something that all three left for others to say.

Indeed, others will say, and some have already spoken. The first reviews have come in following Saturday’s premiere, and it must be said that they are not entirely glowing – including some harsh words from the New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, and San Jose Mercury News. Although I missed the premiere, I did see the final dress rehearsal a few nights prior, when over a thousand local veterans were invited to share this musical tribute to heroism and service, and to the memory of those who fell on 9/11. It is not my intended role here to pass judgment on the success of the opera – something I leave to the individual observer, and to the passing of time. But I can say that the performance I saw was richly moving and provocative in all the ways Mr. Hampson and Mr. Theofanidis imagined it might be, with plenty to commend itself in the music, the direction, the production elements, and the performance. Whatever weaknesses the critics may have observed, they seem not to have fully grasped the vision and passion of these three individuals, nor the cultural importance of their artistic efforts – as are both made demonstrably clear in these interviews. It reminds me of something Mr. Hampson said toward the end of our conversation: “You know, some critic is going to sit there and write things like, ‘Oh, it's not like the usual opera, it's more like musical theater; we missed the aria moment; the duet should have been extended…’ That’s all going to be down the road, and I actually don't think any of us are going to even look at it. I can't tell you whether it's going to be successful or not. But I can tell you that I can't imagine someone not being moved by it. I don't know if it's going to be a barnstormer, and I don't even really care.”

For those able to make the journey, Heart of a Soldier continues with performances at San Francisco Opera on September 13, 18, 21, 24, 27, and 30. For more information, visit the San Francisco Opera website. Otherwise, we’ll all look out for a recording and/or DVD performance on Classical Archives, and the undoubted future performances by other companies.

Nolan Gasser: David Gockley, welcome. In exactly two weeks, the world of opera will be turning its gaze to San Francisco for the world premiere of Heart of a Soldier by Christopher Theofanidis – that you and the San Francisco Opera commissioned in observation of the 10th anniversary of 9/11. Of course, all such grand events have complex origins – with this one dating back nearly a decade to your time as General Director of Houston Grand Opera. Can you take us through the genesis of this project, from your initial interest in working with Chris Theofanidis to the inception of the actual opera that premieres on September 10?

David Gockley: I was long interested in working with Chris, having watched his progress as a young composer growing up in the Houston area. He went away to school [to the Eastman School of Music and Yale University], but he maintained his connection to Houston and to the University there, where he graduated. I was aware of his orchestral works; I also knew his family opera, The 13 Clocks [2002], based on James Thurber's short story for children – and I thought he did a very estimable job for a first work. Later, I was interested in seeing that my Houston successor [Anthony Freud] commission him to write The Refuge [2007] – a kind of dramatic oratorio characterizing the rainbow ethnic make-up of the city of Houston. I thought that it was very skillfully done – both lyrical and powerful – and that he had the chops to take on this story.

The idea for Heart of a Soldier was first suggested to me by my friend and colleague, Francesca Zambello, the talented stage director and Impresaria. She knew James Stewart – the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of the book of the same name – socially in the Adirondacks [a mountain range in northeast New York]. They got to know the book and passed it on to me; and she and I both agreed that it had a lot of wonderfully compelling qualities that would respond to an operatic treatment: two love stories, a great national tragedy, and sacrifice; it deals with the very question of what a hero is, and how a hero functions to keep others safe, making sure things gets done safely – and in a way that you or I might not function in a similar situation.

NG: What year was it that Francesca first made this suggestion to you?

DG: It was 2002 or ‘03 – very shortly after the book came out [published in 2002]; the first thing that came out was an article in The New Yorker [“The Real Soldiers Are Dead: A Love Story”; published February 11, 2002], which was the short form of this story. Stewart then became so consumed with the story that he called up his publisher and said, “This has got to be a book-length treatise; you don't even have to give me an advance – I'm just going to do it anyway.” It [Heart of a Soldier] became a very successful book, which brought to light Rick Rescorla’s heroism not only on 9/11, but also in Vietnam – including at the battle of X-Ray and other battles where he and his platoon acted heroically; in this way Rescorla’s character was revealed to the world.

NG: So, you began talking to Francesca about the idea in 2002 or ‘03 – and by then had gotten to know Chris' music; at what point did you first embrace the idea of producing this as an opera, and that Chris should be its composer?

DG: I would say that within 6 months of knowing of the title, I proposed to Francesca the idea of commissioning Chris; she then proposed Donna Di Novelli as the librettist: we got them together, Francesca became aware of Chris' music – and we were off and running! Early on there were issues that we had about the structure of the piece – whether two acts or three… there was a lot of back and forth on how the piece should be shaped, which took a good bit of time.

In the meantime – I guess early in 2005 – I got appointed [as General Director] at San Francisco Opera, and sadly I had to tell everyone involved that we would have to put this project on ice until I got settled out there. As it turned out, there were a couple of other operas – Appomattox by Philip Glass [premiered October 5, 2007] and The Bonesetter’s Daughter by Stewart Wallace and Amy Tan [premiered September 18, 2008] – that also were incubated in the Houston years; and so this is the third realization of something that had its early origins in that period of time. Heart of a Soldier will be the last one, but it’s common that these things have gestations of five, six, or seven years.

NG: Indeed, I can imagine that such lag times are typical; still I imagine it must have been somewhat of a disappointment to the creative team. I assume that Chris had not actually begun composing when you left, but had Chris and Donna begun working on a scene structure?

DG: It was pretty much in Donna's hands to first create a scenario, scene-by-scene; we initially had issues with this, and sent it back and forth a number of times – and Chris weighed in on occasion. But by the time it was shelved, he had not yet composed any music; he actually did not compose music until he was fully commissioned, and fully committed, to the San Francisco performance – we had not yet gotten to the point of a formal commission, although we did pay for work done to that point.

After getting settled in San Francisco [in 2006], I realized that the 10th anniversary of 9/11 was looming, and that it would help this project if we had someone in the title role with great charisma and star power – and the idea of baritone Thomas Hampson leapt to mind. I was traveling to London and I realized he was singing the role of Germont in [Verdi’s] La Traviata at the Royal Opera House [according to Hampson, the first discussion actually took place when he was singing the title role of Macbeth in 2006]; I went up to see him afterwards, and brought him a copy of Stewart’s book. I think he will tell you that he liked the idea of being a hero, and being a mensch.

NG: I read that he said “yes” even before reading the book.

DG: Well, the role appeals very much to Tom’s personality – he's a bigger than life character, he's intelligent and literate, and has all of the characteristics that Rick Rescorla had. Tom identified with Rick right from the beginning.

So when we had Tom, and we had an availability that allowed us to have the premiere coincide with the 10th anniversary of 9/11, critical mass had been achieved. We got back on to the libretto, and we realized we had a lot more refining to do with that – which probably took another year. Then, of course, the vocal score [i.e., the vocal parts with piano accompaniment] had to be done, and then the orchestration. We did a workshop last December in San Francisco, which was extraordinarily helpful.

In all this, I cannot underestimate the role that the conductor, Patrick Summers [currently Artistic Director of Houston Grand Opera], had in the shaping of the work, and the musical editing – which has resulted in a very tight, compact score: Act 1 being an hour, Act 2 being 45 minutes. It just goes by like the machine gun fire during the Vietnam War: bang, bang, bang!

NG: Indeed, Patrick has been involved in a number of very prominent premieres over the years [including A Streetcar Named Desire by André Previn, premiered in September 1998 and Dead Man Walking by Jake Heggie, premiered October 7, 2000]. And looking on Chris' website, I see that Patrick is also the librettist for an upcoming work that is being commissioned by Houston Grand Opera: Siddhartha [based on the book by Hermann Hesse, slated for premiere in the 2013-14 season] – so, clearly he’s got a good instinct for what can work.

In reading some background online, I was certainly aware what a key role Tom Hampson had in bringing the project to fruition; but I was not aware what a critical role Francesca played – indeed, she seems to have been the catalyst for the whole thing.

DG: Yes, she was pivotal from the very beginning. Francesca and I have worked on a some 13 or 14 productions over a 20-year period – including on the premieres of Little Prince [by Rachel Portman, premiered at Houston Grand Opera in May 2003] and Florencia en el Amazonas [by Mexican composer Daniel Catán, premiered in Houston on October 25, 1996], and probably a few more; and so she is somebody in whom I have immense faith; she’s a consummate professional, well-organized, and she knows how to get things done within the very sharp constraints of a strong union American opera house like San Francisco.

NG: Both you and Francesca are just coming from the recent triumph of San Francisco's Ring Cycle [Wagner’s mammoth 4-part music drama; presented in San Francisco in summer 2011]. I know that on that production, the two of you worked very closely together, not only on the technical elements, but also on the creative design; how directly were you involved in shaping the way the narrative unfolded in this opera?

DG: Very, very involved; I do insert myself, and look to the experience that I've had over the years with these premieres – and especially with a less-experienced team like this. I think they can benefit from Patrick, Francesca, and myself to get them to write a better piece than they would have otherwise. How good it is – we’ll see.

NG: Yes, we’ll see in just two weeks! There are, of course, a number of recent operas that deal with historical issues, but very few that deal with a topic as ingrained in the American consciousness as 9/11 – we all have that image of the Twin Towers forever fixed in our minds; so it certainly would take a team effort to pull it off.

I can imagine too that there were some unique production challenges here: for example, how to portray the Towers and the blasts in the stairwell. I've seen some of the architectural drawings online, but can you talk a bit about how these design elements came into being?

DG: We wanted to show the Towers; we wanted to have them upstage throughout the production. I still haven't seen the end of the piece scenically, but we’ll see the Towers and the staircases, where people will be standing and working, as well as ascending, and descending from one floor to the other. But the majority of the imagery will be projected on an upstage rear projection screen, and on several downstage screens and pieces of scenery itself. We are in the stage of rehearsals now where we are testing and seeing the projected images; and these images can evolve and be edited on the fly – right up to the opening curtain.

We’ll see the blue sky and the white clouds on that most perfect of days in September of 2001, and we’ll also see things that have to do with Rhodesia and the Vietnam war – not newsreel footage, but abstractions of what we will recognize as elements of those locales and those occurrences.

NG: It’s impressive that you can make changes up until the last minute; I'm sure that everyone wants this to be as perfect as possible, given the amount of attention that the production is garnering. Even compared to other big opera premieres in recent years, it seems that this one being met with quite some buzz and anticipation.

DG: Yes, there have been surprisingly few works that have come up to observe this anniversary, and it does beg the question: is it too soon? I'm betting that it's not too soon. But since there aren't a lot of other such events, a lot of attention is focusing on us. Of course, there will be ceremonies in Pennsylvania, and at the Pentagon, and at Ground Zero – for example, the New York Philharmonic will perform Mahler's ‘Resurrection’ Symphony [No.2 in C-] in New York. But there's not a lot of grist for the media mill on this, so we stand out.

NG: Certainly, there is a lot of sensitivity; for example, there was the recent story of Steve Reich’s new album containing his tribute piece to September 11 [WTC 9/11, for string quartet, performed by the Kronos Quartet] – where the original cover had the images of the Towers being attacked; there was such a backlash, he had to change it.

DG: Yes, I did hear about that.

NG: Finally, David, in light of the dramatic backdrop that Heart of a Soldier holds as an opera – the sensitivity of the topic, and the risk of any perceived attempt to capitalize on the topic’s intense emotional potency – San Francisco Opera has responded with what seems to be an extraordinary number of ancillary events scheduled from mid-August through mid-September: lectures, panel discussions, forums and interviews. Can you share some of your thinking on how these events have evolved?

DG: As is typical, we try to approach a topic from all angles – the musical, the historical, the documentary aspect, etc.; we try to bring in partners who have interest in the subject from their perspective, and it can make for some very interesting conversations. I’m not involved directly in setting these events up – Kip Cranna, our Director of Musical Administration, and others have done that. But I was gratified that there will be a lot of discourse around this opera, and I'm sure they'll take on the question that you brought up – the notion of capitalizing on grief and remembrance.

NG: Well, I have little doubt that this production comes from a place of sincerity on everyone’s part – in their desire to pay tribute to this hero, Rick Rescorla, and to the memory of those who fell; indeed, it's part of our healing process – part of the catharsis that Aristotle talks about [in his Poetics], which art is able to deliver in a manner that simple speech cannot.

Thanks for your great efforts in bringing this opera to life, and I wish all of you the best of luck.

DG: Thank you, Nolan.

Nolan Gasser: Christopher Theofanidis, welcome. Any new opera commission from a major house like San Francisco is grounds for a big news story, particularly in the operatic world; but your commission, Heart of a Soldier, has taken this to a whole new level it seems – gaining interest in media circles that usually don't perk up about opera. For example, you are featured in a recent edition of Vanity Fair, even seen sporting a new designer shirt by Giorgio Armani…

Christopher Theofanidis: [laughs] Yes, I normally don't get to dress that well.

NG: Well, it's always good for a composer to look chic. So, has this kind of attention surprised you, or did you know from the get-go that by writing a “9/11 opera”, you'd be placing yourself in the media spotlight?

CT: We certainly had hoped for some attention, but it's been more than we imagined it would be. It seems to have attracted a lot of international press as well: in the last week or so, journalists from Spain, Italy, and other countries have taken an interest, and are writing articles. We're obviously delighted to get any attention, although that was not our intent in writing the opera.

NG: I think it speaks to the fact that although 9/11 is most palpably an American event, it was also an international one – where the whole world was united with us in our shock and grief, and thus other countries too would be looking for some sort of catharsis by representing this moment artistically, as you all have done.

CT: And in fact one of the universal questions that became the focus of the opera is: how do you remember the fallen? If there is a way of putting the “big picture” of this opera into the context of September 11, it very much addresses that question.

NG: I've now spoken with David Gockley, and have heard his account of how the idea of the opera germinated – from its initial proposal by director Francesca Zambello to your being selected as the composer, and then the sudden hold being placed when David left Houston for San Francisco. Can you take us back to those early conversations with David and this first phase of the opera's development, and how the delay in production has impacted its shape?

CT: Back in 1998, David asked me if I would be interested in doing something in Houston, and of course I was. We went back and forth for a number of years on different subject matters – he'd throw a book my way, I'd throw one his way. We developed a couple of stories with different librettists, but when this project came along – around 2004 – the back and forth stopped. Originally, David was thinking about the fifth anniversary of 9/11 [in 2006], where the focus of the work was inescapably more about September 11. But in the present version – which has come through the filter of ten years rather than five – we've decided to make the issues broader and more global, as addressed through these two amazing guys, Rick Rescorla and Dan Hill. That’s been the primary shift brought by the delay: making the story about various themes that come out of the contexts of Rick’s life – 9/11 being but one of them.

NG: You started talking to David about Heart of a Soldier around 2004, but then the project got shelved when he was hired to run San Francisco Opera in 2005. In the intervening years, were you always confident that the opera would still happen, or was there some question in your mind that it might dissipate?

CT: I actually thought it was going to dissipate. Early on, Donna and I went together to visit Dan [Hill] and Susan [Rescorla]; we had an amazing first meeting with them, and were very pumped up about the whole thing. We started to fashion the libretto and got it to a certain stage. Then we found out that David was going to San Francisco; we knew that he was going to have his hands full with budget issues, and that he’d have other operas – including [Philip Glass’] Appomattox – on the table, which would take precedence for the next few years. And so, my assumption was that this project would fall by the wayside.

The big shift came when David began talking to Tom Hampson – Tom got really excited about the idea, and this seems to have gotten the momentum going again. Another thing that helped was targeting it for the 10th anniversary – I actually believe that Heart of a Soldier is much better slotted for the ten-year anniversary point than the five: we now have a different level of maturity in approaching the issues involved, and a different perspective from what we would have had at five years.

NG: Yes, and that holds true for the kind of response the audience might have had after five years as well; it was still so fresh and tender – though it still is tender at ten years. David has indeed talked about how Tom’s signing on to the project gave it “critical mass”, as he's called it.

So, prior to this point, you hadn’t yet written any music, though you and Donna had been working on this scenario, and plotting the scenes. Have you thought about how the music might have sounded if you had pursued the opera five years ago instead of now – given how different the basic approach would have been?

CT: Initially, we had idea of trying to create the sense of time running out – by actually framing the opera from the time of the first hit [of Flight 11 into the North Tower, at 8:46am] to the fall of the second building [the South Tower, at 9:59am], and that would have essentially created a 75-minute opera; that’s how literally we were framing things.

NG: Yes, that's quite different.

CT: But now, the idea behind Heart of a Soldier is the book that Rick Rescorla was himself writing: talking about what motivates a soldier, and the sense of responsibility a soldier feels toward his fellow brothers-in-arms, etc. These broader themes have allowed the opera to stretch quite a bit; although it's still quite tight in terms of the length, it's not nearly as narrow in concept as it was before.

NG: Okay, so let’s take a step back and talk about your work prior to Heart of a Soldier. It seems that previously you'd been largely an orchestral and chamber music composer; of course, you’d written a few theatrical works, including your family opera, 13 Clocks [2002] – which I understand first gave David the confidence to commission you; and also your 2007 oratorio, The Refuge, which David apparently helped secure prior to his leaving Houston.

But now it seems that you have two big opera commissions: you have Heart of a Soldier, of course; and you also have Siddhartha, destined for Houston in 2013 or 14 – with a libretto by Patrick Summers, who is also the conductor of Heart. Did you long know that opera would some day take center stage, so to speak, in your career, or is this more of an unexpected turn?

CT: It's actually an unexpected turn; if I’d had a particular ambition at the time I was getting going as a composer, it was in the orchestral arena. I've always loved opera, and I've gone to see them quite regularly since I was quite young. But this turn has been a surprise; this “double whammy” – that is, Siddhartha back to back with Heart of a Soldier – has happened very curiously, in the sense that it began with David in Houston, but when he left the connection with Houston just kept going with Anthony [Freud, the current General Director at Houston Grand Opera]. Now Anthony will be going to Chicago [Lyric Opera, replacing the retiring William Mason, starting October 2011]; it's really a small family, and it all began happened from a single starting point – which is David Gockley; and nobody's more delighted than I am. But the genre feels natural to me – it’s always been my general approach to writing: coming from the voice, regardless of whether it’s abstract or dramatic with a particular storyline.

NG: Indeed, the voice being that most expressive of instruments. And so now that you are a full-fledged opera composer, what have you found to be some of your most fruitful inspirations within the opera literature?

CT: I would say that for my sense of timing and the way emotion is expressed, I’m indebted to the Italian lineage – also with regard to creating a “lightness of touch”, as with the singing in Mozart’s operas: his unique way of approaching poignant and deep moments that come out surprisingly light. This is key with this opera, since one could easily get sunk under the weight of the topic’s heaviness. So, the feeling I was going for was very much of that Italianate tradition – like in Rossini, who gives you a beautiful, poignant moment when you least expect it. But then again, Puccini is probably the closest in terms of my stylistic approach… but then, somebody brought up yesterday that it sounded like I was using a lot of leitmotifs, and asked me, “Are you a Wagnerian?”

NG: It's sort of in the water…

CT: That's exactly right [laughs]. But then again, the list could go on and on: there’s [Benjamin] Britten’s brilliant clarity – his operatic language is a model for me, in terms of creating clearly understandable diction – which is so important.

NG: It certainly is, and it’s noteworthy that you’ve named such beloved and popular opera composers, which is good, since, as Verdi says, “opera theaters are meant to be filled”. It’s also interesting that you’re not first naming more contemporary operatic models, such as John Adams or Philip Glass.

CT: Well, I have to say that Adams certainly is a model in a lot of ways, and especially in the realm of orchestration; and I teach his music regularly [at Yale University]; and in terms of being able to create sheer sonic luster, Adams is my hero. Philip Glass too is a model, in terms of creating an unconventional, or more stylized approach in opera; we adopt this, for example, in Siddhartha, where the part of Kamala [Siddhartha’s lover and teacher] is a dancing role; and there are multiple other characters who move on stage in a stylized way; and that sort of thing.

NG: Indeed, it’s one of the joys and benefits – maybe challenges too – of being a composer in the early 21st century: we obviously need to be of our time, where there's so much inventiveness in the musical idiom; and yet we can also look back to the aesthetic aspects of Rossini and Mozart, or even earlier generations, to inform the way we approach a topic – it sounds very much that this is what you're doing, and I'm sure that audiences will respond favorably to that.

Okay, so you've worked with Donna now for several years on this, with stops and starts. Can you talk a bit about your process of collaboration, especially once you began writing the music?

CT: It’s been fantastic, because she is a re-writer of the first order; and has a very strong sense of what works, and what doesn't. Coming from the concert world, I had a good sense of re-writing, but not to a level one needs to be a great opera composer. It was thus very valuable to me that Donna was so attuned to what I needed in the music. And in terms of the drama and sharpening things, she would say, “Okay, this doesn’t work; let’s get rid of it, and try to get to a more basic, fundamental ‘truth’ of the scene.” I found that extremely useful, because she always had her eye on the bigger picture. I would often get caught up in the exact words of a passage, almost in a proprietary way, but as a dramatist she could easily re-orient herself text-wise, and never felt that there was some textual “sacred cow” that couldn’t be re-thought or re-conceived – and that was very helpful.

NG: Did you generally share your music with her scene-by-scene, or section-by-section, as you finished it, to get her feedback?

CT: We’d first go back and forth on the text, where I’d let her know if I had some issue or another. Then, after composing a bit, I’d typically play her chunks of 10 or 15 minutes of music, and get her feedback on how it flowed and worked with the drama. For several years early on, we both lived in New York City, so we could get together in person regularly; I’ve now been in Connecticut for the last two or three years, but we still managed to meet fairly frequently. In general, we’ve always had a very open line of communication throughout the whole process, with a lot of back and forth.

NG: It sounds like it's been a very creative experience.

Let’s now talk a little bit about the actual music: you’ve made the point in the promo materials that the opera features a myriad of musical styles – each of which comes out of Rick Rescorla’s life story, as well as his relationships with Susan and Dan Hill – ranging from contemporary classical to Cornish folk songs to Vietnam-era rock, even Islamic chants. In hearing some of your previous works on your website, and on CD, it's clear that you have a naturally eclectic palate as a composer – though I haven't yet heard any specific rock influences. Am I right to assume that this kind of eclectic approach has been great fun for you; and can you talk about your strategy to create within this diversity a sense of cohesion and a unified voice that is your own?

CT: 20th-century pop music is full of all kinds of interesting things, and to ignore them in this opera didn’t make sense. The way that composers synthesize these styles with their own is very personal – take someone like John Zorn in the 1980s and ‘90s, before he changed to a voice more distinctly his own: he was doing a kind of “channel surfing” of styles; I didn't like that approach – it felt too non-committal, more an exercise in what happens when you juxtapose styles. I was more interested in a way to fuse the styles into a single sound world. So, for example, we include a “Cornish” tune – it’s actually my own tune in the style of a Cornish ballad, and was written in such a way that it would fuse with the elements of my own style and harmonic language. Similarly, the electric guitar and the bagpipes become part of the fabric of the orchestra; that is to say, they’re not featured so that one would say, “Oh, here’s the Jimmy Hendrix part,” or “hey, some bagpipes just appeared out of nowhere.” Instead, they’re blended into the melodic concept of the sound world as much as possible. This is something I struggled with, and worked very hard to achieve – so that when these sounds appear, it’s not so much a pastiche; but rather coming up as a “wave” for a moment, and then submerging again into the general sound world.

NG: This sounds like a great recipe for keeping the sound tight and unified – so the Vietnam-era section isn’t just a reprise of “The End” [by the rock group the Doors] at the end of Apocalypse Now.

CT: Exactly.

NG: Well, we're all curious to hear how you have blended these styles – “blended” is a good word, since creating a pastiche does run the risk of it sounding like an exercise more than something cohesive.

Finally, Chris, you mentioned how you and Donna met with both Susan Rescorla and Dan Hill; I also know that Susan was present when you did a workshop last December in San Francisco. Can you talk about how these personal encounters have impacted the way you’ve musically personified these characters in the opera?

CT: When a story is based on this many real people, out of respect you try to get the intention and the specificity of the details correct – there’s a sense of accountability that everyone in this project, from the set design and costume to the words and music, has taken to heart. This comes simply out of hearing Dan and Susan speak about their memories – it's so primal, so real. And so you feel like you should care about these events at that same level, to make them equally important.

Susan gave us all kind of amazing things; the first thing that stands out in my mind is when we went to their home in Morristown [New Jersey]: she showed us many of Rick’s things, so that we could touch them – and get a sense of what he liked and cared about. She also put us in contact with some of Rick’s old army buddies, sent us recordings of them being drunk and singing in Vietnam, and other things.

Dan too has been very important for us: he has a really wry sense of humor and was constantly suggestion hilarious details. For example, he wrote a letter to Bill Burton – who portrays him in the opera – with generous details about his own character and nature, yet never with any sense of infringement; he would always qualify them by saying, “but do you what you want – I just want you to know where I was coming from.” One key story involves a lion’s tooth: Rick got it when he was serving in Rhodesia, and he became very superstitious about it, as a source of protection; later, he gave it to Dan, to keep him safe while he served in Afghanistan. And, of course, Rick wasn’t wearing it on 9/11. Dan actually sent the tooth to Tom Hampson – and Tom wears it in the production!

NG: That's amazing.

CT: Yes, it makes it really special, and it gives us all a sense of investment in the project. Of course, Donna and I are already super-invested, because we've been living with this story for so many years. But this production has shown commitment and intensity from a lot of people – many of these folks will be here for the dress rehearsal, as well as lot of local veterans. It’s going to be very meaningful and bring people together – and in the best sense of what opera is capable of: creating the kind of story that is more relatable to folks than is a symphony. People from a broader swathe of culture will have a point of access to this story across various dimensions: the soldier aspect, the 9/11 aspect, the love story aspect, first responders, etc. – their basic humanity brings them to the project in a way that they wouldn't have otherwise with an opera; and that’s because it’s a true story, and these are real people who were themselves invested in it.

NG: There are many operas based on true stories, of course, but very few that have this kind of currency – and such a powerful message; there are many operas with lots of action, and many operas with lots of romance, but very few that combine them quite as palpably as Heart of Soldier. Clearly, if you've hit it out of the park, it's going to be quite something.

CT: Yes, hopefully – we're certainly trying.

NG: Well, the very best of luck for a terrific premiere!

CT: Thanks very much, Nolan; very good to talk to you.

Nolan Gasser: Thomas Hampson, welcome. Since I know you’ve just come from rehearsal of Heart of a Soldier, can you first tell how things are coming together?

Thomas Hampson: Things are coming together quite remarkably well, I think – and it's been a wonderful process so far. We've still got a lot to do: we're changing words, and we're focused on making sure the story remains very clear – because the opera is divided into snapshots of various events in Rick's life; it’s a fleshing out of the relationships between Rick and the other characters [especially Susan and Dan], and it’s very concentrated; so it’s key that the storyline remains intact. Plus, it's a very technically laden show – there’s a lot of visual and acoustic landscape to work out.

So, right now we're in tech rehearsals – but it is actually kind of astounding how solid, and how organic all the music and rhythmic things are falling into place on top of that. I don't want to seem cocksure – we've still got our hands full, and we need every minute of stage time before we open – but there's certainly no feeling of despair at this point.

NG: That all sounds very encouraging, and it's nice to know that things are off to a good start. In my conversation with David two days ago, I was surprised when we mentioned that the video projections – which are obviously a key element – could still be manipulated and edited even in these last two weeks. I imagine that there are a lot of creative minds swirling as to how to make this production as tight as possible.

TH: Yes, there are a lot of cooks in the kitchen; and in fact I try to get myself out of the kitchen as much as possible. The main chef is Francesca, and she's doing a terrific job: she's got great “eyes”, and is very good at looking at the stage and knowing immediately whether something works or not; and that's a great relief.

NG: Indeed, Francesca seems to be at the height of her powers – coming off of a very successful Ring Cycle in San Francisco, which was very creative and visual; and now coming into a media blitz with this high-profile opera. Well, everyone is quite excited, and anxious to see the premiere – now less than two weeks away.

You’ve sung in several operatic world premieres over the years, including at San Francisco Opera, singing the role Valmont in Conrad Susa's Dangerous Liaisons in 1994; you've also premiered numerous song cycles and other vocal works by American composers; but this, I trust, is a rather different experience – as in the figure of Rick Rescorla, you'll be embodying a bigger than life hero who triumphed on one of America's darkest days, on 9/11. Can you talk a bit about what this experience has been like for you so far – both as a singer, and as an American?

TH: Well, that's a question we'll be on here for a half an hour or so [laughs]. It is always very exciting, and challenging, to birth new works, and I'm very committed to that process for two reasons: first, for selfish reasons – because it's just such a wonderful process, and I enjoy it so much; and second, for esoteric or altruistic reasons – because I think it's the responsibility of every artistic generation to facilitate the work of creative individuals, even if it's not successful. And specifically in the world of opera, we need to welcome as many good opera composers as we can find – allow them to work, knowing full well that maybe it's going to be a one-off. There's so much pressure on new works today, which in a way is unfair.

So, I was very committed to this project from the get-go, for these reasons alone. But then, of course, there is this story. We're very glad to describe this guy, Rick Rescorla, as “larger than life” now; but when he was alive not too long ago – just ten years ago, he was head of security, and had been talking about the big dilemma of national security, and specifically about the vulnerability of the World Trade Center, for years before; at that point, he wasn't larger than life. Many people, in fact, were glad not to have him larger than life, because they didn’t want to deal with this stuff. I'm not trying to make him into a lone prophet in the wilderness; there were many more people than we can know who were concerned about our vulnerabilities.

But that's not really what this plot is about for me – it’s about heroism. Real courage and real heroism is frankly the ability to live past, and even negate, your own sense of self-preservation for the good of the people around you, and the crisis that you're in. Heroism happens at an extraordinary moment – when people, normal people leading normal lives, rise to extraordinary occasions with extraordinary abilities. Rick was a well trained, disciplined, and smart man who throughout his life was able to suppress his own self-preservation for that crisis he was in, and that is heroism.

Rick was also very aware of his own normal life, as well as the beauty of everyone else's normal life, and he enjoyed and embraced that “normal” living of life. And he was especially grateful to find his love, Susan, late in life; and he cherished his friendship with Dan Hill – who, because of his own love of literature and adventure, saw something essential in that epic friend-soldier-adventurer. There are so many wonderful, normal things about this man – and in my own process of getting to know him, regardless of the notes and the rhythms of the music, it’s been a joy to get to know this human being, to talk to his friends, his widow, see his shoes, touch his things. I've never had that experience before, and that is unusual and very moving.

NG: I can imagine; it's one thing to get to know this man, yet another to get to portray him – and especially in the special musical medium that you have as a singer; I'm sure it's a mixture of being very humbling and very inspiring – especially since you can get to know him in a way that you can’t with other historical figures in opera, by meeting his friends and his widow.

In talking to both David and Chris, it seems as if you were very much a driving force in making this thing happen. I found it interesting that Chris feared the whole project might dissipate when David moved to San Francisco, and how your signing on turned that around. And David discussed visiting you at the Royal Opera House during your performance of La Traviata, and how you immediately found resonance with the idea, even before reading the book. Can you share your memories about that first conversation with David, and what persuading, if any, you had to do to take on this role?

TH: I’m certainly thrilled to hear that my commitment to the piece became a bit of an anchor as it went through its various stops and starts. Though, David and I started talking about this much earlier than La Traviata [2009]; yes, it was at the Royal Covent Garden, but it was when I was doing Macbeth [2006]. The next year [2007], when I was in San Francisco for Macbeth, we had another conversation about it, where he told me, “We’re having some financial issues, so I don’t know when this will happen.” And I made it very clear to him that I was committed to the project; I said to David, “Look, you take your time and get this done; I’m on board – I will do this piece.”

By that time, I had read the book, and I had gotten to know Chris' music – which I like very much; Chris and I have a lot of mutual friends, and these days everywhere you look, it’s Theofanidis. So finally, the project got put on the calendar, and once there, it never moved; there was never a negotiation issue – I was committed from the beginning. And if my commitment was able to “carry water” for the project, I’m very happy about that – but there’s been a lot of people working really hard over the last two or three years to get this puppy in shape, and I know that this is how it works. In the beginning, I wasn’t exactly sure what was involved – I knew it was Heart of a Soldier, and that the “starring” role was Rick Rescorla; but there could be a lot of play there: I mean, the opera [by Tchaikovsky] is called Eugene Onegin, but one could argue that it should be called “Tatiana” [Onegin’s love interest].

But it was never about having a “star vehicle” – it has always been about this wonderful story. It’s an important piece: beyond 9/11, it also revisits various parts of our recent collective history – especially, Vietnam. This has always meant a great deal to me; I was a kid at the time – it was a hateful, horrible time… I was recently talking to a friend my age – I missed the draft by about a year and a half – and I asked her, “Why was there was so much hatred for the soldiers coming back from Vietnam?” And she said something important: “Don't forget, all this was pre-Watergate; we still believed the government!” I mean, if we had the awareness then that we have today, imagine how different things would have been. Of course, this is not part of the opera – you and I are having a discussion over a glass of wine; but I’ve learned a lot from Rick Rescorla – I like this guy; I would have learned greater self-understanding and self-discipline had I been one of his soldiers, for instance. He was the kind of guy that help people orient themselves – and you hear that in the stories of those who knew him: he was a big teddy bear later in life, but he was someone who clearly understood that the road from action to consequence is a straight one.

NG: Yes, you can gather a little bit of that strength even from that one photo of Rick on the cover of Stewart’s book: he’s in the jungles of Vietnam, and you get that sense of focus and steely calm in his gaze.

TH: He had that, for sure; and one of his natural talents was instilling trust in people. There’s no doubt that he was an extraordinary individual: he was apparently extremely strong, without looking like a body-builder; he was fearless; and he had that “sixth sense” of seeing all the moving parts in both a crisis and a management situation – and especially as a soldier; he had this remarkable ability to sort out fact from trauma, and to do what needed to be done – sometimes at tremendous risk to his own person. I don't think he had a death wish; he wasn’t an idiot; he wasn’t somebody who was spitting in the wind – he just was a remarkable human being who could sense what was out of order.

NG: And that ability – to think clearly, and to protect others even ahead of himself, if need be – came to its ultimate culmination on 9/11.

TH: Without question.

NG: You've touched upon many things here, and I’m struck by your point that although, of course, this is a story about Rick’s heroism, as well as his relationships to Susan and Dan, it also raises the specter of Vietnam – which was part of what made him who he was, but is likewise part of our ongoing consciousness as Americans. In some way, this opera is not only able to provide that catharsis, and that snapshot of what happened on 9/11, but it can also continue to clarify the strengths and conflicts that Vietnam gave to the generation that produced Rick Rescorla.

TH: Yes, this opera has several contexts: it is a very contemporary story, where the identifiers of its life, times, and culture are things that practically everyone in the audience will know intimately, and will have their own reactions to it. To give you an example, the first night we piped in the voice of President Lyndon Baines Johnson giving the Tonkin Resolution [that, following the incidents of August 1964 in the Gulf of Tonkin, allowed Johnson to initiate military action in Vietnam without a formal declaration of War; this takes place in Act 1 of the opera], some older folks in the room let out some boos under their breath.

But you’re right, it’s not just a story about 9/11, and not even just about wars; it’s about a great warrior, Rick, and his epic friendship with Dan Hill – which Rick referred to as the kind of friendship described by Kipling in The Man Who Would Be King [between the two characters of Daniel Dravot and Peachey Carnehan]. You know, we have this full-blown onstage battle scene [depicting the Vietnam War Battle of X-Ray, or the Battle of la Drang, November 14-18, 1965] – which is extremely rare in opera; it’s thrilling and very complicated. Out of this experience, Rick and Dan have that tough conversation that takes place after every war: Rick screams out, “We told these boys it was just. This is not a just war; these kids are dying, and there’s not going to be an end to it…”

Both of them found obtuse, but differing answers to this question. So the opera is also a story about conflict, and about the loss of life that is inherent in every questionable war. If there's something that's always been extremely aggravating to me, it’s how we treat our vets, who train and fight, and sometimes come back to be looked at sideways. I may actually get more involved in this issue; I think we have a responsibility to reincorporate and reinvigorate those who in many cases were clocked out of their youth, and the lives ahead of them, and sent to do what perhaps they didn't want to do – but had to do; we have a responsibility to give them a life back. But we didn't do that; we completely let that generation of Vietnam vets down.

You know, just what we're doing here, Nolan – we're spinning off into a much more detailed conversation of one little aspect of the opera. I think that's what this piece could do: it's going to be a conversation piece. I believe it's going to be a very moving, dramatic evening, and people are going to respond to some parts of the opera more than others. But one thing that you're not going to see is people walking out of the opera house saying, “Oh, okay, well whatever.” That's not going to happen.

NG: Right, I’m sure it’s not going to issue any complacency. And you're right, our discussion about Vietnam and the condition of vets also makes me think about what happened after 9/11: the volunteer soldiers who ended up fighting not only in Afghanistan, but also in Iraq. This again raises the challenges of focusing an opera about such a recent, tender topic – it’s so fresh. It certainly will be a catalyst for a lot of discussion, as we’re demonstrating. But this is what art can do – as I noted to David, it’s what Aristotle talked about: the catharsis that art can provide about a difficult topic in our lives, whereby we can see things a bit more objectively and work through the conflicts.

TH: Exactly. The point of the opera will not be, “Aha, he knew beforehand [about the vulnerability of the Twin Towers to attack]; we should have listened to him”. It won't even be about people’s terrible memory of that attack. At the end of the day, it will be a beautiful story about friends, about different kinds of love, and about embracing one another as neighbors, as friends, as lovers, as companions. I hope that people will actually come out of this experience and look at one another a little deeper in the eyes, over a cup of coffee the next morning, and say: “We are here, and we should be grateful that we're here. We don't know where our heart will lead us, and God help us that we may become the right person at the right time – like these people were.” That’s the essence of Rick's personality too: he always wanted to be there for other people, to simply make sure they were allowed to be the people they were meant to be.

It is astounding to know – because of Rick’s story – what limited resources were put into the Tower; for instance, they did not have emergency lighting on the stairwells; they did not have drills on a regular basis. The Port Authority didn't want to talk about these things. But discipline is not just eliminating error; it’s also making sure you’re doing what needs to be done – and Rick was brilliant at all this, and helping other people do that as well.

NG: I'm struck by how you talk about Rick, as if you knew him personally. And it’s evident that you've taken your preparation of this role very seriously indeed – diving into Rick's life story even beyond James Stewart's book. Can you give us a sense about your preparation – how much time did you spend with Susan and Dan? Did you visit Cornwall [where Rick was born]?

TH: I loved the story when I read it, and I’ve had several long conversations with James Stewart. Later, my wife and I spent a wonderful afternoon with Susan at her house, looking among her memorabilia – she gave me a couple of very nice things that belonged to Rick, as a sort of talisman. Dan and I have met, and have exchanged several emails and had a few phone calls. I did not go to Cornwall, but I've read all about it, and have had conversations with many, many people. It’s also been helpful working with Bill Burden – who has brought wonderful insight into how he sees and is portraying Dan Hill. And Donna [Di Novelli, the librettist] has been wonderful: she’s been here from day one; we talk about the text a lot, and often make small changes: we just changed the word “always” to “only”, because it worked better.

There’s really something different in this experience; we’ve all done premieres before, but we don’t decompress after rehearsals like we usually do. It’s different: for example, Melody Moore said to me the other day, “Oh yeah, I talked to Susan yesterday.” This is a very personal experience. We’re not trying to impersonate these folks, and we’re really glad they’re coming to the performance.

You know, some critic is going to sit there and write things like, “Oh, it's not like the usual opera, it's more like musical theater; we missed the aria moment; the duet should have been extended…” That’s all going to be down the road, and I actually don't think any of us are going to even look at it. I can't tell you whether it's going to be successful or not. But I can't imagine someone not being moved by it. I don't know if it's going to be a barnstormer, and I don't really care. All I care about – because I believe in it – is doing all that I can to make the story as alive and visceral and true as I possibly can. I can tell you that my personal connection to this story, and to the personality of Rick Rescorla, is significant: I like this man, I admire this man, I would have liked to have known this man, and I'm grateful that we have such people's stories in our modern society that we can still embrace and reflect on, and which reinforce values that are applicable, definable, and justifiable regardless of any religious traditions, regardless of any moral traditions – they're simply healing qualities that belong in a society like ours.

NG: That’s certainly a very healthy attitude as you move toward the premiere, in less than two weeks. You all had no choice, it seems, to make this happen; it feels – from you, David, and Chris – that this became a sort of duty you had as artists, and that the opportunity could not be squandered. Time, of course, is the great arbiter of works of art, and we’ll all have to see how well the piece stands up.

Finally, Tom, I was interested in reading that as of this moment there are no plans currently to bring Heart of a Soldier to the Met – where its resonance would be enormous – or to other companies. Knowing operatic audiences as well as you do, can you foresee that happening?

TH: That’s a hypothetical question, and I don't want to be either prophet or snubber; I think we'll have to see. I know that there are no plans anywhere else right now, though everyone involved with the production believes that it needs to run somewhere else as well. What’s involved in getting this to the Metropolitan is certainly above my pay grade – and I don't care to even speculate. Certainly, should the question come to me from any theater, I would move heaven and earth to make it possible. It is, in truth, somewhat disconcerting that we don't have other dates already booked up yet, because the opera business books so far in advance – and it would be unfortunate to let this piece sit for three or four years before somebody else picked it up again.

I think it has enough viability, traction, and accessibility to not let it gestate too long. Francesca and I are talking about this, and we are investigating in our calendars where we could perhaps propose it to a couple of other companies. I personally am very confident that this piece will play again – though where that will be, and under what circumstances, I don't know. I'm thrilled that San Francisco has such great multimedia quality and potential, so that we will at least have visual evidence of this in HD quality. San Francisco’s HD ability is one of the best-kept secrets in the opera world. The HD phenomenon has become such a branding point for the Metropolitan, but we need to let the rest of the country, and the arts world, know that HD San Francisco is alive and well. I’ll be happy to do what I can with funding to make a DVD or broadcast the production – there are a lot of possibilities. In any event, my commitment to the piece is as long-term as anybody would want it to be.

NG: I'm sure that Chris will be very pleased to know that. But, as you say, it’s hypothetical; right now, you are in the midst of preparing for a well-earned San Francisco world premiere – and I wish you and all of your colleagues the very best of luck for a smashing success!

TH: Thanks so much for the great conversation.

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