At the SF Opera tonight, the world premiere of Heart of a Soldier opens, based on the life of a 9/11 hero. It follows a much less controversial Turandot last night, as if to contrast the Italian tradition with the need to expand the modern repertoire.

September 11 happened ten years ago Sunday, and there won't be any debate about conservative vs progressive approaches to repertoire when the SF Opera will turn the annual free concert in Golden Gate park into the City's Civic Observance day commemorating the anniversary of 9/11. The SF Opera orchestra and singers will perform Mozart’s Requiem and inspirational American music (that's code for God Bless America, we assume) interspersed with meditational texts read by members of the San Francisco Interfaith Council. If this sounds like a downer, remember that music brings catharsis and chardonnay draws out solace. (Just don't expect the usual Libiamo drinking song encore.)

How to depict 9/11 is a touchy topic, and we have to salute the guts of putting together an opera which broaches these events. Heart of a Soldier is based on the book about the life of Rick Rescorla, who left England as a teenager to enroll in the military and go to Northen Rhodesia in the 50s. There he met an American kid, Dan Hill, with a similar background. Off they went to Vietnam, where both earned tons of medals for their courage under fire. Rescorla is actually pictured on the cover of We were soldiers once... and young, a book about the Ia Drang battle. After Vietnam, Rescorla (sung by Thomas Hampson, who penned this op-ed) went back to school, earned a law degree, worked his way up to director of security for Morgan Stanley in the World Trade center, and met his second wife Susan (sung by Melody Moore) in his late fifties. On 9/11, he was at work in the World Trade Center, and he safely evacuated all fourty floors under his charge after the plane crashed. But in his final act of courage, he went back up the tower to sweep the floors one last time, never to be seen again.

Francesca Zambello, fresh from her success directing the SF Opera Ring Cycle, tackles the stage direction for the new project. Zambello has directed everything, from Disney's Little Mermaid on Broadway to the world premiere of An American Tragedy at the Met. We asked her about Heart of a Soldier.