In this powerful musical drama, the theme is UNIVERSAL, the idiom unmistakably AMERICAN.
The spectacular success of San Francisco Opera’s Dead Man Walking laid to rest any skepticism about the viability of capital punishment as a subject for opera. What in lesser hands could have become ineffectual advocacy theater about a highly combustible social, political and moral issue turned out to be a beautiful and powerful portrayal of love, death, forgiveness and redemption in modern day America.
If you missed seeing the opera, listen to this live CD recording of the world premiere performance – it’s the next best thing to being there. Composer JAKE HEGGIE masterfully captures in his music the drama and the pathos of Sister HELEN PREJEAN‘s long, real-life journey into the mind and heart of a condemned man, personified in the opera as
Until this opera, which is his first, Heggie has been known as an American master of song. Dead Man Walking shows that he is well on his way to being known as a master orchestrator as well. And a rarity of an opera composer! He is exceptional among contemporary composers in his unashamed use of melody, his mastery of song so evident in his arias (and duets and ensembles) that they can never be mistaken for the extended recitatives that modern arias often sound like. And when, like all contemporary composers, he uses elements of dissonance, he does so within a context the audience/listener will readily understand – such as to dramatize violence, conflict and complexity.
The theme of the opera is universal, but the idiom is unmistakably American – from the vivid first libretto by prize-winning playwright Terrence McNally, to the bits of pop and rock and gospel that add elements of surprise to the sweeping cinematic quality of the music, convincingly delivered by an outstanding all-American cast and orchestra.
SUSAN GRAHAM’s soaring, lyric mezzo-soprano definitely sets the standard for the role of Sister Helen and tells why she is one of today’s most sought-after mezzo-sopranos. His compelling performance as Joseph De Rocher is certainly a defining moment for the young tenor, JOHN PACKARD. And veteran mezzo-soprano FREDERICA VON STADE brings genuine pathos to the role of the condemned man’s mother.
Kudos to Erato for a finely crafted product: the digital sound vividly conveys both the drama of the opera and the ambience of the opera house, and the generous companion booklet contains not only the libretto but a precious album of production photos and insightful information about the opera and the people in it and behind it.
Listen to some clips of highlights from the opera (Click titles below). Surely, you’ll applaud JAKE HEGGIE’s exceptional gift for melody and prowess as a composer, and the excellence of the cast. And surely, you’ll affirm the ascendancy of American contemporary opera in the world of music.
DEAD MAN WALKING: CD HIGHLIGHTS[table style="1"]
|Prologue||He will gather us around|
|The defendant’s mother||Death row|
|Forgiveness||We will walk together|
|How much longer?||Dead man walking|