The Kennedy Center

WNO Dead Man Walking

Washington National Opera: Dead Man Walking

Saturday, February 25, 2017 - Saturday, March 11, 2017

Justice and Courage at the Opera JFK Centennial Celebration Washington National Opera

Jake Heggie's instant modern classic--about a death row inmate convicted for murder and the kindhearted nun who takes on his final appeal--becomes a searing emotional journey powered by an unforgettable score infused with American popular styles.

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Dead Man Walking
In English with Projected English Titles
New WNO production

This event is part of JFKC: A Centennial Celebration of John F. Kennedy, inspired by five enduring ideals often ascribed to JFK: Courage, Freedom, Justice, Service, and Gratitude. Learn more about this event's connection to the celebration.  

"Dead Man Walking has been in my DNA since its inception... I'm sure we'll
plumb new depths and bring this amazing piece to new life yet again."
--Susan Graham
Sentenced to die for a double-murder he swears he didn't commit, hardened convict Joseph De Rocher asks a kindhearted nun to help him with one last appeal. Sister Helen Prejean accepts his request, only to begin her own searing journey through the emotional and spiritual ramifications of his supposed crime. As execution day ticks closer, the young nun finds herself empathizing with Joseph's predicament. But once his family and the victims' relatives share their harrowing stories, she struggles to reconcile the paradox of mercy and compassion with society's demand for justice.
Based on Prejean's real-life memoirs, which also inspired the 1995 film, Dead Man Walking infuses its score with American popular styles to become an instant modern classic, hailed as one of the most gripping and important operas of the new century. For its landmark premiere in 2000, the New York Times called this mesmerizing drama "a masterpiece of words, music, and emotions." London's Guardian raved it "makes the most concentrated impact of any piece of American music theater since West Side Story." And NPR calls the music "Gershwinesque spiced with Samuel Barber and Leonard Bernstein, blues, and even early rock."

Please Note: Dead Man Walking contains mature subject matter, including depictions of sexual violence and murder. Not recommended for audience members under the age of 15.

Performance Timing: Act One - 80 min.; Intermission - 25 min.; Act Two - 63 min.

Sister Helen Prejean: Kate Lindsey
Joseph De Rocher: Michael Mayes
Mrs. De Rocher: Susan Graham
Sister Rose: Jacqueline Echols
Warden George Benton: Timothy J. Bruno
Father Grenville: Clay Hilley
Owen Hart: Wayne Tigges
Kitty Hart: Kerriann Otaño
Howard Boucher: Robert Baker
Jade Boucher: Daryl Freedman
Motorcycle Cop/Prison Guard 1: Michael Adams
Prison Guard 2: Andrew Bogard
Older Brother: Matthew Hill
Younger Brother: Simon Diesenhaus
Teenage Girl: Rebecca Brinkley
Teenage Boy: Dylan Jackson
Anthony De Rocher/Paralegal: Joe Isenberg
Director: Francesca Zambello
Conductor: Michael Christie
Assistant Director: E. Loren Meeker
Set Designer: Allen Moyer
Costume Designer: Jessica Jahn
Lighting Designer: Christopher Akerlind
Projections: Greg Emetaz
Sound Design: Roger Gans
Sound Consultation: Acme Sound Partners
Hair and Makeup Designer: Anne Ford-Coates for Elsen Associates
Fight Master: Joe Isenberg
Cover Conductor: Michael Sakir
Assistant Conductor: Michael Baitzer
Assistant Conductor and Diction Coach: Thomas Bagwell
Chorus Master: Steven Gathman
Children's Chorus Master: William Breytspraak
Projected English Titles: Colin Ure
Stage Manager: Lynn Krynicki

Musicologist Saul
Lilienstein leads the Wednesday, Mar. 8 Opera Insight, starting 1 hour and 15 minutes before the performance and lasting 35–40 minutes. All other Opera Insights start 1 hour before the performance and last 20–25 minutes. Informative and entertaining, Opera Insights take you inside the composer's mind, behind the scenes of planning a production, and into the history and social context of each opera. These lectures are free, but patrons must present a ticket from any performance of Dead Man Walking.

2/25: Francesca Zambello in conversation with Sister Helen Prejean
2/27: Francesca Zambello in conversation with Jake Heggie
3/3: Steve Steinbach, Chair of the History Department, Sidwell Friends School
3/5: Conductor Michael Christie, conductor with Michael Mayes
3/8: Musicologist Saul Lilienstein
3/11: Conductor Michael Christie, with Shawn Ambrust, Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project

Following all performances:
Saturday evening, Feb. 25 (the real-life Sister Helen Prejean will join)
Monday evening, Feb. 27 (Jake Heggie and Frederica Von Stade--the originator of the role of Mrs. DeRocher--will join)
Friday evening, Mar. 3
Sunday matinee, Mar. 5
Wednesday evening, Mar. 8
Saturday evening, Mar. 11
Don't miss your opportunity to engage directly with our artists and share your thoughts on the experience you just had! Here's your chance to ask questions and get the inside scoop on the production from members of the cast and creative team. All discussions begin immediately after the performance and are free with your ticket.


Hear from Sister Helen Prejean, whose memoirs inspired Dead Man Walking, at these two events:

Free at the National Museum of Women in the Arts on Feb. 5
Sister Prejean speaks with WNO Artistic Director Francesca Zambello, followed by a reception. 
Make your free reservation.

Free at Washington National Cathedral on Feb. 6
Sister Prejean moderates an evening of music and discussion on the death penalty with six religious leaders. 
Make your free reservation.

What People are Saying

Watch and Listen

Jake Heggie on Dead Man Walking

WNO Commentary: Dead Man Walking 1 of 7: Act One: Prelude. The mission. The journey (audio only)

WNO Commentary: Dead Man Walking 2 of 7: Act One: The Louisiana State Penitentiary (audio only)

WNO Commentary: Dead Man Walking 3 of 7: Act One: The grief stricken families (audio only)

WNO Commentary: Dead Man Walking 4 of 7: Between the acts (audio only)

WNO Commentary: Dead Man Walking 5 of 7: Act Two: Solitary voices (audio only)

WNO Commentary: Dead Man Walking 6 of 7: Act Two: On Death Row (audio only)

WNO Commentary: Dead Man Walking 7 of 7: Act Two: Confession. Execution. Justice. (audio only)

Francesca Zambello on Deadman Walking and Champion

Dead Man Walking (Trailer)