Northwestern University Opera Theater’s Chicago-area premiere of the opera Dead Man Walking February 20-28 received glowing reviews.
The Chicago Tribune’s John von Rhein praised director Michael Ehrman for the “taut, polished staging” that “brought Heggie’s emotionally charged music drama to pulsating life.” He continued by lauding the exceptional talent of Bienen students. “Terrific performances in leading roles by gifted master’s students from the Bienen school voice program sent me to the program book to make sure I wasn’t hearing experienced professional singers.”
According to Chicago Classical Review, "the riveting performance...was so well done and completely realized in every respect, that it’s hard to imagine either of Chicago’s two professional opera companies doing better." (Reviewer Lawrence A. Johnson would later name the Northwestern production one of the top ten performances of 2015: "The powerful performances by the student singers and effective staging made for a compelling and devastating experience that rivaled anything seen on local professional stages in 2015.")
The double-cast production starred Bienen students Kelsey Park and Quinn Middleman as Sister Helen Prejean, the young nun who served as spiritual adviser to death-row inmate Joseph De Rocher, portrayed by Ethan Simpson and Alexander York.
So that audience members could reflect on the themes and topics suggested by Dead Man Walking, a discussion was held following the February 28 performance. Northwestern University School of Law faculty members Leigh Bienen, senior lecturer, and Robert C. Owen, clinical professor, joined members of the artistic staff and cast for the conversation.
With music by Jake Heggie and libretto by Terrence McNally, Dead Man Walking is based on the best-selling memoir of the same title by Sister Helen Prejean. Since its San Francisco Opera premiere in 2000, Dead Man Walking has received more than 40 stage productions worldwide.