Dead Man Walking is based upon the memoir by Sister Helen Prejean. It is a contemporary opera set in Louisiana about a nun (mezzo soprano, J’Nai Bridge) who becomes the spiritual advisor for Joseph De Rocher (Daniel Okulitch) a man on death row convicted of rape and murder. The murkiness of justice, forgiveness and morality are explored in this dark tale.
Sister Helen Prejean draws the audience into her personal journey of forgiving the crimes of a man that she has the unordinary conviction to champion. She believes him to be equally deserving of compassion as the victims of his crime. The outraged opposition of the murdered children’s parents and her priest’s scepticism do not deter Sister Helen. Despite her conviction she still struggles to personally forgive Joseph De Rocher as she grapples with him to admit his guilt and prepare for his execution. Her strong and soulful voice truly highlights the moral dilemmas in the story. With most of the scenes consisting of one or two characters the opera develops an intimate feeling.
Erhard Rom, scene and projection designer, was able to imply scene changes with barely moving any furniture on stage.The believability of each scene was accomplished by changing the projection and was aided by its descriptive score
Dead Man Walking is an excellent introduction to the craft for the novice opera goer. Each element of the work weaves seamlessly in delivering a morally complex story that will make you question your own values while compiling you with its melodies.
Dead Man Walking, conducted by Jonathan Darlington and directed by Joel Ivany is part of the Vancouver Opera Festival. Performances are being held at The Queen Elizabeth Theater on May 2, 5 at 7:30pm and on May 7 at 2:00pm
All images: photo credit Tim Matheson