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Article Published: 04 Jul 2020

Outstanding Works, Decade by Decade: The 2000s

Wynne Delacoma
contributor, Musical America
The Light in the Piazza (Adam Guettel)

Patrick Dillon
contributor, Opera, Opera News
Caroline, or Change (Jeanine Tesori/Tony Kushner)

Jenna Douglas
contributor, Schmopera
Iron Road (Chan Ka Nin/Mark Brownell/George K. Wong)

Janos Gereben
contributor, San Francisco Classical Voice
Dead Man Walking (Jake Heggie/Terrence McNally)

Mark Gresham
contributor, ArtsATL

Dead Man Walking

George Loomis
contributor, Financial Times, Opera
The Wedding (William Bolcom/Robert Altman/Arnold Weinstein)

Sarah Bryan Miller
critic, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Dead Man Walking

Noel Morris
Producer, WFMT Radio Network
Dead Man Walking

Fred Plotkin
contributor, WQXR.com
Dead Man Walking

John Rockwell
contributor, Opera, Financial Times
Caroline, or Change

Richard Sasanow
opera editor, Broadway World
Doctor Atomic (John Adams/Peter Sellars)

Steve Smith
editor, National Sawdust Log
Lost Highway (Olga Neuwirth/Elfriede Jelinek)

Brin Solomon
contributor, National Sawdust Log
Doctor Atomic

Heidi Waleson
critic, The Wall Street Journal
The Handmaid’s Tale (Poul Ruder/Paul Bentley)

Susan Graham and John Ames in the world premiere of Dead Man Walking at San Francisco Opera
Susan Graham and John Ames in the world premiere of Dead Man Walking at San Francisco Opera (photo: Kenneth Friedman)
Dead Man Walking

Based on the book by Sister Helen Prejean, C.S.J., Dead Man Walking, by composer Jake Heggie and librettist Terrence McNally, has in the course of two decades become one of the most-performed American operas of our time. The emotionally powerful, socially relevant drama recounts a nun’s encounter with a convict who is sentenced to execution for brutally murdering a pair of teenage lovers. Far more than an epistle on the controversial and challenging moral issue of the death penalty, Dead Man Walking is an exploration of the timeless and complex spiritual issues of confession, forgiveness, and redemption. From the opera’s disturbing opening moments to its emotion-crushing conclusion, Heggie underpins the drama’s many changes of scenes and moods with a solid, richly eclectic score that mingles American vernacular and modernist classical styles with ease, punctuated by dramatically emblematic tunes and some passages of genuinely beautiful music. — Mark Gresham

This article was published in the Summer 2020 issue of Opera America Magazine.