Denver, Colo. (June 23, 2014) – “When I came out of the execution chamber after Pat Sonnier had been killed in front of my eyes, I thought, ‘People will never be brought close enough to this.  I have to tell the story.’ That is why I wrote the book,” says Sister Helen Prejean about the genesis of her book on which Jake Heggie’s American opera, Dead Man Walking, is based.

Central City Opera (CCO) brings a new production of Heggie’s opera lauded by the San Francisco Chronicle as “a gripping, enormously skillful marriage of words and music to tell a story of love, suffering and spiritual redemption” to the stage as its second offering of the company’s 2014 Festival running July 5 through July 25. From its shocking beginning, where audiences literally see the crime committed, to the emotionally searing final scene, this human story has been touted by critics as one of the most powerful operas ever written. Based on the autobiographical book by Sister Helen Prejean about her experiences with a death row inmate, the story was also adapted into the 1995 award-winning movie starring Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn.

Set in Louisiana in the 1980s, Dead Man Walking is about the unique relationship between a condemned killer on death row, Joseph De Rocher, and the nun, Sister Helen, who offers him love and support. Even though Joseph has committed a horrible crime and the public has condemned him, Sister Helen agrees to be his spiritual advisor, and the unlikely pair end up forming a close friendship. Right before Joseph is put to death, Sister Helen convinces him to confess his sins, beg for forgiveness and give peace to his troubled soul.

“The story isn’t just about this guy who kills the teenagers,” says composer Jake Heggie of his first opera. “It’s about Sister Helen herself, the parents, the mother, the guards, the prisoners – the entire audience is on a journey of redemption. It takes people by surprise. It creeps up on you.” Dead Man Walking premiered in 2000 at the San Francisco Opera, and has since become one of the most frequently performed contemporary operas with performances across the United States and throughout Europe.

““The question of how one maintains religious convictions when faced with the most horrific, violent crime imaginable is at the heart of Dead Man Walking,” says Stage Director Ken Cazan, who has worked often with Central City Opera and returns for both Dead Man Walking and The Sound of Music this summer after most recently directing Our Town in 2013. “What this piece does better than many others is challenge the audience,” further explains Cazan. “It doesn’t tell the viewer what to think and feel… This opera poses questions, not answers.”

Dead Man Walking will be performed in English at the Central City Opera House. Tickets range from $20 to $90.  

Dead Man Walking is rated R (17+) and is for  mature audiences only due to violence, language and nudity.

Prisons, Compassion and Redemption Project
Central City Opera’s Prisons, Compassion and Redemption Project is a series of thought-provoking events related to the themes of Dead Man Walking that kicked off in March and culminates in performances of the opera this July. Jake Heggie (composer of Dead Man Walking) and Sister Helen Prejean (whose book was the basis for the 1995 film and the opera) came to Denver in March to participate in several community events. A symposium panel of distinguished community members with Sister Helen and Mr. Heggie offered opposing views on capital punishment and responded to questions from an audience of more than 150. The events in March also included a screening of the 1995 award-winning film followed by a talkback with Sr. Prejean, and a master class for young performers at the Colorado Springs Conservatory that was led by composer Jake Heggie. Other events that have taken place as part of the Project between March and June include an Interfaith Religious Round Table discussion on the death penalty; a panel discussion entitled Rated R on Stage about sex, violence and language and how it relates to Colorado’s performing arts organizations in partnership with Curious Theatre; and book club discussions. Still to come is the more lighthearted Central City event, Central City Days: Divas and Desperados, on July 13 and 19 before performances of Dead Man Walking.

Central City Days: Divas and Desperados
(Precedes performances of Dead Man Walking July 13 and 19, 11:30am – 1:30 pm)
Central City Opera invites patrons to head to the hills for an afternoon adventure. Sponsored by the City of Central, in partnership with the Gilpin Historical Society, attendees can bring their lunch to the picturesque Central City Cemetery to hear the tales of the county’s most infamous bad boys and naughty girls. Event goers will see who spent time behind bars at Washington Hall followed by short historic tours that will introduce them to the town’s most notorious characters, ending with a gunfight. Passes are $15, and boxed lunches are available for an additional $10. A package including Central City Days and a matinee performance of Dead Man Walking on the day of the event is available for $55.

Dead Man Walking Performing Artists
Celebrating his 23rd Central City Opera Festival in 2014, CCO Music Director John Baril will serve as conductor of Dead Man Walking.  Mr. Baril has led a wide range of productions during his tenure with the company, including 2013’s The Barber of Seville, La bohème in 2012, the triple bill of one-act operas in 2011, and 2010’s performances of Three Decembers. Chorus Master for Opera Colorado since 2003, Mr. Baril made his official Opera Colorado conducting debut leading Le nozze di Figaro in 2012 and conducted the young artist performance of The Barber of Seville for the company in February 2010. He made his Opera Delaware debut in May 2010 conducting Tosca and returned there recently to conduct Pagliacci and Cavalleria rusticana. In 2010, he also made his Nashville Opera debut leading Don Giovanni. Most recently, he conducted Carmen with Nevada Opera.

Lyric mezzo-soprano Jennifer Rivera returns to CCO to perform the title role of Sister Helen Prejean. Ms. Rivera made her CCO debut last year as Rosina in The Barber of Seville, a role she has performed with numerous companies, including the New York City Opera, Florentine Opera, Lyric Opera of Kansas City, and the Berlin Staatsoper. Other credits include the title role of Stellidaura in La Stellidaura vendicante with the Innsbruck Early Music Festival, Mrs. Williamson in The Difficulty of Crossing a Field with the Nashville Opera, and Nerone in Agrippina with Berlin Staatsoper. She recently starred in Baden-Baden 1927 with the Gotham Chamber Opera, Nerone in Agrippina with Opera Omaha, and Penelope in Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria with Boston Baroque. On June 21, 2014, Ms. Rivera made her fourth appearance on NPR’s famed radio show, A Prairie Home Companion.

With a “powerful” voice and an “arresting stage presence,” baritone Michael Mayes* will perform the role of Joseph De Rocher, a role he has become known for and has performed to critical acclaim with the Tulsa Opera in 2012, Eugene Opera in 2013 and will again sing with the Madison Opera this year. Making his professional CCO debut, Mr. Mayes was a Bonfils-Stanton Foundation Apprentice Artist in 2000. He has performed with opera companies across the United States. Some of his appearances include Eisenstein in Die Fledermaus for Opera on the James, Figaro in Il barbiere di Siviglia with Pensacola Opera, the Green Mountain Opera Festival as Don Giovanni, Marcello in La bohème with Eugene Opera and Des Moines Metro Opera, the title role in Don Giovanni with Shreveport Opera, Marco in Gianni Schicchi with the Metropolitan Opera, the title role in Rigoletto with the Boston Lyric Opera, and Ft. Worth Opera as Elder Thompson in the critically acclaimed world premiere of Glory Denied. His honors include the John Alexander Award, the John Moriarty Award, and an advanced division winner at the Anton Guadagno Vocal Competition.

An artist of “dramatic presence and versatility” as stated by the Washington Post, soprano Jeanine De Bique* makes her CCO debut performing the role of Sister Rose. This season, Ms. De Bique will also make her debut as Juliette in Romeo et Juliette with the St. Petersburg Opera and Clara in Porgy and Bess with the Royal Danish Opera. Previously, Ms. De Bique was a member of the Vienna State Opera House Ensemble where she appeared as Gianetta in L’elisir d’amore, Barbarina in Le nozze di Figaro, Kate Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly, Eine Modistin in Der Rosenkavalier and Ada in Wagner’s Die Feen. Highly regarded by contemporary composers, she created the role of The Woman of the River in the opera Heart of Darkness by two-time Grammy-nominated composer Tarik O’Regan, with American Opera Projects (New York) and recorded Andrew Beall’s “Song of Almah for Soprano and Marimba” for his CD, Deliverance.  Recent credits include singing a recital at The Museum for Women in the Arts in Washington, DC, and Mozart’s Exsultate, jubilate with Sinfonia Rotterdam. Ms. De Bique was featured on the public radio program This American Life this month.

Baritone Robert Orth makes his return to CCO following his acclaimed performances in the role of Frederik Egerman in CCO’s 2009 production of A Little Night Music. He also previously performed with the company as Horace Tabor in the 50th anniversary production of The Ballad of Baby Doe in 2006. A company veteran, several previous appearances include Lescaut in Manon (1994) and Eisenstein in Die Fledermaus (1991). Mr. Orth was also highly touted for his portrayal of the role of Richard Nixon in Nixon in China, which he performed with Opera Colorado. Recent credits include Simon Powers in Death and the Powers with the Dallas Opera, Howie Albert in Champion with the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, and Stubb in Moby-Dick with the San Francisco Opera.

Tenor Jason Baldwin* makes his CCO debut performing the role of Father Grenville. Previously, Mr. Baldwin has performed the roles of Don José in Carmen with both the Utah Festival Opera and Opera Theatre of the Rockies; Tybalt in Roméo et Juliette and Ernesto in Don Pasquale with the Utah Opera; Spoletta in Tosca, Pang in Turandot, Adolfo Pirelli in Sweeney Todd with Opera Colorado, and more. Most recently, Mr. Baldwin returned to Utah Opera to sing Arcadio in Florencia en el Amazonas, Loveland Opera Theatre as Rodolfo in La bohème and a concert with the Longmont Symphony. Mr. Baldwin is also an Ensemble and Teaching Artist for Central City Opera.

Mezzo-soprano Maria Zifchak returns to CCO as Mrs. Patrick De Rocher following her role as housekeeper Mrs. Grose in 2012’s The Turn of the Screw. Ms. Zifchak made her CCO company debut as Madame de la Haltière in Cendrillon in 2007, and returned as Bianca in The Rape of Lucretia and Mrs. McLean in Susannah in 2008. A frequent performer with the Metropolitan Opera, Ms. Zifchak has performed there as Annina in La Traviata, Inez in Il Trovatore and Kasturbai in Satyagraha. She has also played Genevieve in Pelléas and Mélisande and both the Mother and the Witch in Hänsel and Gretel with Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, and Dorabella in Così fan tutte with Seattle Opera and Arizona Opera. Most recently, Ms. Zifchak sang the role of Brian’s Mother in Two Boys and Suzuki in Madama Butterfly with The Metropolitan Opera, and Ruth in Pirates of Penzance with Opera Theatre of St. Louis.

Tenor Joseph Gaines will perform the role of Howard Boucher, mezzo-soprano Claire Shackleton will sing the role of Jade Boucher, and the Colorado Children’s Chorale will perform the children roles.

Dead Man Walking Production Team
The director of last summer’s Our Town, Oklahoma! in 2012, and 2011’s three one-acts, Ken Cazan returns to CCO to direct Dead Man Walking (and The Sound of Music) after his other recent credits with the company of 2010’s Three Decembers, A Little Night Music in 2009 and the sold-out West Side Story in 2008. As the Chair of Vocal Performing Arts and Opera and the Resident Stage Director for the Flora A. Thornton School of Music at the University of Southern California, Mr. Cazan is one of America’s most sought-after directors, having staged more than 150 productions of opera, musical theater, and plays in the United States, Canada, Mexico and Europe.

Alan E. Muraoka returns to CCO as the Scenic Designer for Dead Man Walking following last summer’s Our Town and Oklahoma! in 2012. In his twenty-year career, Mr. Muraoka has designed for theatre, opera, television, and film, where he has been up for two Emmy nominations and three Art Director’s Guild Award nominations as a production designer and art director. Recent credits include The Tempest and Dialogues of the Carmelites for USC Opera, and The Fall of the House of Usher for Long Beach Opera and Chicago Opera Theater.

David Martin Jacques returns this summer for his 14th festival as Resident Lighting Designer. He has been lauded for his design of more than 300 theatre, opera, television, dance and special event productions. Recent work includes Tristan und Isolde for Teatro la Fenise, The Fall of the House of Usher for Chicago Opera Theatre and A Midsummer Night’s Dream with Teatro dell’Opera Roma. Wig/Makeup Designer Dave Bova returns to CCO for the third year. Mr. Bova’s recent work has included Two Gentlemen of Verona with The Shakespeare Theatre Company, The Fallow with People’s Light and Theatre and Red with the George Street Playhouse.

Central City Opera 2014 Festival
Central City Opera House – June 28 to July 26
The Marriage of Figaro opens the Festival in Central City on June 28 and runs through July 26. Jake Heggie’s opera Dead Man Walking, based on the true story and famous book written by Sister Helen Prejean about her relationship with Louisiana death row inmate Joseph De Rocher, which was also an award-winning movie is the second offering opening July 5 and running at the Opera House through July 25. Tickets for these two productions at the Central City Opera House range from $20 to $90.

The Sound of Music at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House in the Denver Performing Arts Complex – August 2 to 10
Central City Opera comes to Denver once again for seven performances of Rodgers and Hammerstein II’s beloved classic musical, The Sound of Music. The production will run in Denver only at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House from August 2 through August 10, and features a full live orchestra. Tickets for The Sound of Music at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House range from $30 to $106.

Subscriptions for Central City Opera’s 2014 Festival start at just $56 and provide a 20% discount on single tickets.

In addition to its slate of operas for 2014, CCO will continue to present innovative initiatives that will engage a broader audience with exciting enhancements to the Festival experience. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit www.centralcityopera.org or call 303-292-6700.

Celebrating its 82nd year, Central City Opera is the nation’s fifth-oldest opera company, located just 35 miles west of Denver in one of Colorado’s official National Landmark Historic Districts. The company continues to present artistically excellent professional opera in its annual summer festival; to offer career-entry training to young singers; to produce education and community service programs; and to preserve and maintain the Opera House and 30 other Victorian-era properties.

Central City Opera Dead Man Walking Cast List
*=Central City Opera Debut

Dead Man Walking
Music:   Jake Heggie
Libretto:   Terrence McNally
Conductor:   John Baril
Director:   Ken Cazan
Scenic Designer:   Alan E. Muraoka
Lighting Designer:   David Martin Jacques
Wig/Makeup Designer:   Dave Bova
Supertitles:   Thomas Getty

Sister Helen Prejean:   Jennifer Rivera
Sister Rose:   Jeanine De Bique*
Joseph De Rocher:   Michael Mayes*
George Benton:   Thomas Hammons*
Owen Hart:   Robert Orth
Father Grenville:   Jason Baldwin*
Mrs. Patrick De Rocher:   Maria Zifchak
Howard Boucher:   Joseph Gaines
Children:   Colorado Children’s Chorale

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