by Jake Heggie
An NCPA-The Metropolitan Opera (New York) Presentation
The most widely performed new opera of the last two decades, Dead Man Walking, is adapted from the groundbreaking memoir of the same name by Sister Helen Prejean, in which she describes her experience with convicted murderers on death row to whom she offered spiritual advice. In bringing this powerful story to the operatic stage, composer Jake Heggie created a score that recalls Sister Helen’s prose and her advocacy style: direct, unaffected and unflinchingly honest—but not without a deep understanding of the heart and humanity inside each one of us.
While based on real-life events from the late 1970s and early 1980s, Heggie’s opera is more generally set in contemporary times, as questions about the value and morality of the death penalty remain relevant. Nonetheless, the locations evoke actual places from Prejean’s life: a mission in a very poor neighbourhood of New Orleans, the long road out to Louisiana State Penitentiary and predominantly, the prison itself.
In depicting this quintessentially American story, Heggie composed a score immersed in an American musical vernacular built around the characters and their inner conflicts, rather than an overt debate about capital punishment. Both lead roles require classic operatic vocalism, and the important role of Mrs. De Rocher, Joseph’s mother, must convey deep pathos in her tone as well as being able to express both the text and subtext in her music. Ambient music also plays a large role, including songs on a car radio, rock ’n’ roll in the style of Elvis Presley, and a traditional sounding hymn whose impact changes when heard in different treatments.
Conductor: Yannick Nézet Séguin
Cast: Latonia Moore, Joyce DiDonato, Ryan McKinny & Susan Graham
Content Advisory: Dead Man Walking contains a depiction of rape and murder, as well as other adult themes and strong language.
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