Closer Look: San Francisco Opera Performs Story Of 9/11 Hero

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Firefighters search rubble of collapsed World Trade Center towers after terrorist attacks, New York City (AP)

Firefighters search rubble of collapsed World Trade Center towers after terrorist attacks, New York City (AP)

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS 5) – From the rubble of the World Trade Center have come incredible stories of rescue and survival. But there is one story that arguably stands out above the rest, one which is now memorialized on stage and in song in San Francisco.

On September 11, 2001, Rick Rescorla was the Vice-President in charge of security at Morgan Stanley. The investment firm occupied roughly 20 floors of  Tower 2. Since the 1993 World Trade Center bombing Rescorla had been warning his employer about the potential for another terrorist strike at the iconic building site, even suggesting a move for the investment giant.

When it became obvious that Morgan Stanley was going to stay put, the former Vietnam Veteran took matters into his own hands and instituted a security drill protocol. Every three months every Morgan Stanley employee from the receptionists to board members took part in a drill that led them all out of the building.

Rescorla led these drills. To calm everyone’s nerves, and to perhaps lighten the mood, he sang into a bullhorn. This English immigrant would belt out old Cornish Folk songs, along with other American songs that he liked. The drills took place every three months or so.

After the first plane hit the Tower 1, Port Authority officials got on the intercom system and told everyone that they were safe and instructed the thousands of workers to go back to their desks and sit down. Rescorla had ‘a bad feeling’ and decided he was going to get all of his people out. He did just that and is credited with saving 2,700 lives that fateful fall day.

After Rescorla and his security team led nearly every Morgan Stanley employee to safety, they went back into the building to find any stragglers. Moments later, the tower collapsed, killing Rescorla and several other security team members.

Now, on the tenth anniversary of 9/11, the San Francisco Opera is presenting ‘Heart of a Soldier’, the story of Rick Rescorla, premiering on September 10th. The seven performances include around 100 cast members, a set that tragically mirrors what took place that fall day and a performance by baritone Thomas Hampson, who brings Rescorla’s spirit to life.

“It is about that story. It is about Rick. It’s about this man who I would have very much liked to and been honored to have met,” said Hampson. “I think he had a very sharp intuition. I think he was a very intelligent, disciplined man. I think he had a great deal of compassion for people.”

Rescorla also had many passions in life; his educational pursuits, interest in music, and a desire to know more about his Cornish cultural heritage. Many of these themes are touched on in the Opera. But perhaps the most important part of the ‘Heart of a Soldier’ storyline is Rescorla’s relationship with his wife, Susan.

“I honestly don’t think Rick went up those stairs the last time thinking, well, you gotta go, you gotta go, this is it. I mean, he did have that conversation with Susan, he said, ‘look whatever happens, I love you … I have never loved anything like you and our life fulfilled me.’” said Hampson.

By the time Rick and Susan Rescorla met they had both been married and had children with other people. Theirs was a late-in-life story. Susan last spoke to her husband on 9/11 as he was preparing to evacuate the Morgan Stanley employees. The opera is as much about Rescorla’s heroics as it is about his love for his wife.

Susan Rescorla planned to be at the opera opening night.

“It is a sensitive topic and we have taken a calculated risk that our event, our opera, will help people through the event, “said David Gockley, SF Opera General director.

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