Dead Man Walking
Los Angeles Review by Willard Manus

DEAD MAN WALKING is one of opera’s most-performed contemporary works–and after seeing Opera Parallele’s version of it at the Broad Stage, it’s not hard to understand why it has achieved such international popularity.

The opera, which is based on Sister Helen Prejean’s book and on the Tim Robbins movie, deals with a universal and provocative theme: the moral justification for capital punishment. Librettist Terrence McNally and composer Jake Heggie have squeezed every bit of drama imaginable out of the subject, marrying music and words in a gripping and powerful way.
The large cast, led by Jennifer Rivera as Sister Helen and Michael Mayes as the condemned killer Joseph DeRocher, sang magnificently at the Broad Stage, backed up by a 30-person orchestra (led by Nicole Paiement) and by such stalwart vocalists as Talise Trevigne (as Sister Rose) and Catherine Cook (as the prisoner’s mother). Members of the National Children’s Chorus also made a strong contribution to in this simply staged but always effective production.

DEAD MAN WALKING tells the story of the unsettling relationship between a man on death row and the Catholic nun who shows him compassion and Christian love even after he breaks down and admits to the crime of killing two young Louisiana teenagers. He’s guilty, but does that mean society is justified in killing him in return? Is an eye for an eye the only moral code we should live by? Or would it be better just to lock up a man like that for life, instead of becoming murderers ourselves?

DEAD MAN WALKING was performed at the Broad for only two performances, but luckily we will have the opportunity to see another Jake Heggie opera when L.A. Opera presents the L.A. premiere of his epic adaptation of Moby Dick, starring Jay Hunter Morris as Captain Ahab (Oct. 31-Nov. 28, 2015).