As the 20th century drew to its close, some who followed the demographics of American audiences for classical music noticed a strange phenomenon: opera was suddenly a "hot" ticket, and the audience for opera performances was getting younger. Simultaneous with this demographic shift was the appearance on the scene of a number of new American operas on American themes.
On today's date in 2000, one of these new operas received its premiere performance in San Francisco. "Dead Men Walking," an opera in two acts, was based on a 1993 book by Sister Helen Prejean, a book also made into a successful movie. The libretto for the operatic version of Sister Prejean's book was crafted by Terrance McNally and set to music by the American composer, Jake Heggie.
Now, an opera based on eye-witness accounts of American prisoners on death row might seem an unlikely topic for an opera, but Sister Prejean didn't think so:
"I love the way the opera captures essential human conflicts: love or hate, compassion or vengeance, redemption or condemnation… From the beginning, I told McNally and Heggie that I'd trust them to compose the opera if they wove into its center the quest for redemption. They got it. And I could tell by the stillness in the auditorium and the tumultuous applause at the end that the audience also really gets it."
Music Played in Today's Program
Jake Heggie (b. 1961)Dead Man WalkingSan Francisco Opera; Patrick Summers, cond.Erato 86238