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On 26 January, the Teatro Real presents the Spanish premiere of Dead Man Walking, the first opera by composer Jake Heggie, based on a non-fiction book of the same name by Sister Helen Prejean. Dead Man Walking - slang in American prisons for a prisoner on death row as he walks from his cell to the electric chair - is a reflection on the death penalty, and at the same time, a study in the redemptive power of love.

At the Teatro Real, mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato will give life to Sister Helen Prejean, protagonist of the drama, while the musical direction will be in the hands of Mark Wigglesworth, and the stage direction, by Leonardo Foglia.


Opera in two acts

Music by Jake Heggie (1961)
Libretto by Terrence McNally

Based on the book by Sister Helen Prejean

This opera was commissioned by the San Francisco Opera
Premiere at the Teatro Real
Production by the Lyric Opera of Chicago

Principal Chorus and Orchestra of the Teatro Real
(Coro Intermezzo / Orquesta Sinfónica de Madrid)
Pequeños Cantores de la ORCAM

Approximate running time

2 hours and 50 minutes
Act I
: 80 minutes
Intermission: 25 minutes
Act II: 65 minutes

Starting Point

A man who has been accused of a monstrous crime and is condemned to death row comes face to face with a nun who fiercely defends the dignity of every individual without exception. In Sister Helen Prejean and her story of redemption, composer Jake Heggie found the perfect material to compose an American opera with universal resonance. His musical language is constructed on a base of melodic motifs and rhythms which steadily increase in intensity. Overcome with physical and emotional exhaustion, these peak and there is a steady decrescendo. The music and story put us to the test, we become responsible for making our own conclusions and questioning our own preconceptions.

Prejean could be any one of us, for that reason it is easy to identify with her crusade. Through her eyes, we discover the characters of this story: from the assassin himself, to his family, and that of the victim. What begins as a story with a clear moral message becomes a disturbing universe of grey-nuanced tonalities: all the characters of the opera are ordinary people who have been pushed to the limit. In fact, they are not very different from ourselves. And in that sense, we ask the question: what would we have done in the same circumstances? 

Production Team & Cast

  • Musical director: Mark Wigglesworth
  • Stage director: Leonard Foglia
  • Set designer: Michael McGarty
  • Costume designer: Jess Goldstein
  • Lighting designer: Brian Nason
  • Video: Elaine J. McCarthy
  • Chorus Master: Andrés Máspero
  • Children's Chorus Master: Ana González
· - ·
  • Sister Helen: Joyce DiDonato
  • Joseph DeRocher: Michael Mayes
  • Mrs. DeRocher: Maria Zifchak
  • Sister Rose: Measha Brueggergosman
  • George Benton: Damián del Castillo
  • Father Grenville: Roger Padullés
  • Kitty Hart: María Hinojosa
  • Owen Hart: Toni Marsol
  • Jade Boucher: Marta de Castro
  • Howard Boucher: Vicenç Esteve
  • A Motor Cop: Enric Martínez-Castignani
  • Sister Catherine: Celia Alcedo
  • Sister Lillianne: Marifé Nogales
  • First Prison Guard: Enric Martínez-Castignani
  • Second Prison Guard: Tomeu Bibiloni

Performance Dates

  • 26 JAN (F) 21:00h
  • 29 JAN (M) 21:00h
  • 31 JAN (W) 21:00h
  • 3 FEB (S) 21:00h
  • 6 FEB (T) 21:00h
  • 9 FEB (F) 21:00h
  • Place: Main Auditorium

Programme of show

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