The story of a man who is famous because he has slept for ten years. He awakes just before he is about to break the world record for sleeping and his wife and the town are in a state of panic because they wish to capitalise on his achievement.
Is The Hero a political satire? Only slightly so. It is much more, a humorous comment on contemporary society and on its self-satisfaction and greed. It is a spoof of those leaders who, to protect their own interest, choose the mediocre and the expedient, and glorify the innocuous; the man who sleeps, and thus cannot interfere with or bother anybody.
This is an opera celebrating the American sense of humor. It is a gently, good-natured plea for American’s to wake up to reality, to abandon self-congratulatory illusions, to return to their former rugged individualism and to the uncompromising honesty of their ancestors. They should be aware of the danger of letting themselves be led by a sleeping man.
Who is David Murphy? He is the prototype of the “yes” man, achieving by agreeing with everybody’s views, and by turning a blind eye to corruption. In other words, he is the perfect man for a dishonest society. It is on “the man who sleeps” that the people around him feed their selfishness.
Barbara stands not only for David’s conscience, but also for the new courage and honesty of the American youth who dare to challenge the long-standing myths of “success” as a sine qua of respectability, and search instead for self-respect and inner peace.
Being a comic opera, none of the characters are drawn with hate or contempt. Even the trio of villains, Mildred the Doctor, the Mayor, should deserve our sympathy because, after all, they are part of our own weakness.
---Gian Carlo Menotti