Dead Man Walking






Composed by Jake Heggie with libretto by Terrence McNally, Dead Man Walking was commissioned by San Francisco Opera and premiered on the War Memorial Opera House stage in 2000. Since then, it has been rendered in more than 40 productions worldwide, but the Opera Parallèle production will be the first time it has been seen in San Francisco since its premiere 15 years ago. Dead Man Walking is based on Sister Helen Prejean’s 1993 memoir, which tells of her time working with death row inmates at Louisiana State Penitentiary, and of a particular relationship she developed with one of the inmates. Sister Helen’s memoir was also the subject of a celebrated 1995 film starring Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn. The popularity of the opera can be credited not only to the timeless relevance of its subject and the humanity of its story, but on how successfully the composer and librettist captured the essence and impact of the story in an intense musical and dramatic setting.

Opera Parallèle presents a new production in “OP style” featuring dynamic, flexible sets, digital projections and a high-impact performance style overseen by Creative Director Brian Staufenbiel.  The work has been newly re-orchestrated under the supervision of Jake Heggie and Nicole Paiement.

Production Photos

Dead Man Walking


RiveraThumbJENNIFER RIVERA (MEZZO-SOPRANO) SISTER HELEN PREJEAN will perform this year with the Milwaukee Symphony, for Schubert’s Mass No. 6 under Hans Graf; Gotham Chamber Opera, for Baden-Baden 1927; Opera Omaha, for Nerone in Agrippina; Boston Baroque, for Penelope in Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria; and for Central City Opera, to debut the role of Sister Helen Prejean. Future seasons include a return to Portland Opera, and her debuts with Opera Parallèle and the Dallas Opera. Ms. Rivera returned to Innsbruck for the title role in Stellidaura Vendicante during summer of the 2012. The ensuing 2012-2013 season included the Berlin Staatsoper and the Salle Pleyel for Agrippina, Mrs. Williamson in The Difficulty of Crossing a Field with Nashville Opera, and a debut with Central City Opera as Rosina. 2011 saw the release of two recordings: Nerone in Agrippina for Harmonia Mundi and Licida in L’Olimpiade for Sony Music.


MayesThumbMICHAEL MAYES (BARITONE) JOE DE ROCHER is originally from Conroe, Texas. Michael Mayes has performed with opera companies throughout the United States.  The 2013-2014 season brought his much anticipated role debut as Rigoletto with Boston Lyric Opera and his debut with Gotham Chamber Opera in Baden-Baden 1927, as well as reprisals of his Joseph De Rocher in Dead Man Walking with both Madison Opera and Central City Opera, a role he debuted with Tulsa Opera in a performance described by Tulsa World as “an experience those who saw it will never forget.”  Mr. Mayes received critical acclaim for his recent return to Ft. Worth Opera as Elder Thompson in the World Premiere of Glory Denied. Additional recent highlights include the premiere of Photo-Op with UrbanArias, Figaro in Il barbiere di Siviglia with Pensacola Opera, and Don Giovanni with both the Green Mountain Festival and Nevada Opera.   Mr. Mayes joined the roster of the Metropolitan Opera in the 2009-2010 season.


Anya17 Cook Opera ParalleleCATHERINE COOK (MEZZO-SOPRANO) MRS. DE ROCHER sang the title role in Tobias Picker’s Dolores Claiborne, and Berta in Il barbiere di Siviglia with San Francisco Opera; Dame Quickly in Falstaff with Opera Santa Barbara; and Carole and Natalia in Anya 17 with Opera Paralléle. Recent highlights include a return to the Metropolitan Opera as Marthe in Faust; soloist in Ravel’s Chansons Madecasse and Heggie’s The Deepest Desire for Noe Valley Chamber Music; and Berta in Il barbiere di Siviglia with Houston Grand Opera. A regular artist with San Francisco Opera, she has performed Marcellina in Le nozze di Figaro, Arlene Kamen/Wang Tai Tai in Wallace’s The Bonesetter’s Daughter, Innkeeper in Boris Godunov, La Frugola in Il Tabarro, Monitor in Suor Angelica, La Ciesca in Gianni Schicchi, and Marthe in Faust. Next season she returns to San Francisco Opera as Mrs. McLean in Floyd’s Susannah and Marcellina in Le nozze di Figaro.


TrevigneThumbTALISE TREVIGNE (SOPRANO) SISTER ROSE appears as the three Heroines in Les Contes d’Hoffmann at Knoxville Opera and Opéra de Lyon, France.  She returns to Washington National Opera where she revives the role of Pip in Moby-Dick, a role specially written for her and which she inaugurated at the world premiere of the piece at Dallas Opera and has since sung in San Francisco and San Diego. She travels to Tel-Aviv to appear in Israeli Opera’s production of Les Contes d’Hoffmann and later joins the cast of Portland Opera’s Pirates of Penzance as Mabel and rounds up the season as Mimi in La Bohème at New Zealand Opera. Recent successes include her appearance with Albany Symphony Orchestra to perform Christopher Rouse’s Kabir Padavali and a further house and role debut as Julie in Francesca Zambello’s production of Showboat at Washington National Opera. Other notable appearances include Micaëla in Carmen at San Diego Opera, Mimi in La Bohème at Opera Omaha as well as Gilda, and in the title role of Manon at Knoxville Opera.


Clayton thumbnailKRISTIN CLAYTON (SOPRANO) KITTY HART starred in the World Premiere of Jake Heggie’s and Terrence McNally’s one-woman opera At the Statue of Venus for the opening of Denver’s Ellie Caulkins Opera House. She has sung with San Francisco Opera (I Pagliacci, Ariadne auf Naxos, and Dangerous Liaisons); Chataqua Opera (La Traviata and La Rondine); Wolftrap Opera (Don Giovanni and Die Zauberflöte), and participated in World Premieres:  Three Decembers, Houston Grand Opera; The Golden Ticket, Opera Theater of St. Louis.



Rice thumbnailMICHELLE RICE (MEZZO-SOPRANO) JADE BOUCHER sang the Mother (Amahl) with Monterey Symphony and Livermore Valley Opera, Emilia (Otello) with West Bay Opera and Festival Opera, and Maria in Opera Parallèle’s reading of Gesualdo. She has performed with Opera San José, Fresno Grand Opera, Annapolis Opera, and Opera Cleveland in roles such as Antonia’s Mother (Les contes d’Hoffmann), Mercedes (Carmen), Suzuki (Madama Butterfly) and the Witch/Mother (Hansel and Gretel). Future engagements include Azucena (Il trovatore) and Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde.



Meyers thumbnailJOSEPH MEYERS (TENOR) HOWARD BOUCHER appeared with Opera Parallèle in Young Caesar, Wozzeck and Four Saints in Three Acts.  He is a frequent performer with San Francisco Opera, Portland Opera, Utah Festival Opera, Opera San Jose, Anchorage Opera, and Tampa Opera. His roles include the Duke (Rigoletto), Pinkerton (Madama Butterfly), Ferrando (Così fan Tutte), Rodolfo (La Bohème), Hoffmann (Les contes d’Hoffmann), Ernesto (Don Pasquale) and Rinuccio (Gianni Schicchi).




OrthThumbROBERT ORTH (BARITONE) OWEN HART is a leading baritone with major opera companies and symphony orchestras throughout North America and Europe.  He was named “Artist of the Year” by both New York City Opera and Seattle Opera. Hailed by Opera News as a “fixture of contemporary opera,” Robert Orth has participated in the world premieres and major revivals of: Jake Heggie’s Dead Man Walking, and Moby-Dick, John Adams’s Nixon in China, Ricky Ian Gordon’s The Grapes of Wrath, Terence Blanchard’s Champion, Dominic Argento’s A Waterbird Talk, Lee Hoiby’s Summer and Smoke, and Daron Hagen’s Shining Brow. He created the title role in Harvey Milk by Stewart Wallace and Michael Korie for Houston Grand Opera, New York City Opera, and San Francisco Opera. With Nicole Paiement, Robert Orth has previously collaborated on Tod Machover’s Death and the Powers, and Peter Maxwell Davies’s The Lighthouse, both for Dallas Opera.


Duykers thumbnailJOHN DUYKERS (TENOR) FATHER GRENVILLE has appeared with many of the leading opera companies of the world. He has participated in the creation of more than 170 new operas, including 90 world premieres. He created the role of Chairman Mao in John Adams’ Nixon in China, premiered with Houston Grand Opera.  Philip Glass has written three roles for Duykers including Older Galileo in Galileo/Galilei.  He is General Director of First Look Sonoma, a production company dedicated to the development of new vocal performance arts.




Jake Heggie, ComposerJAKE HEGGIE (COMPOSER) is the American composer of the operas Moby-Dick, Dead Man Walking, Three Decembers, To Hell and Back, and Out of Darkness: a triptych of Holocaust stories (Another Sunrise – Farewell, Auschwitz – For a Look or a Touch). He has also composed more than 250 songs, as well as chamber, choral and orchestral works. The operas – most created with the distinguished writers Terrence McNally and Gene Scheer – have been produced extensively on five continents. Dead Man Walking (McNally) has received 40 productions since its premiere, as well as two live recordings. Moby-Dick (Scheer) was telecast in 2013 as part of Great Performances’ 40th Season and was recently released on DVD (EuroArts). It is also the subject of the book Heggie & Scheer’s Moby-Dick: A Grand Opera for the 21st Century (UNT Press). Heggie, a Guggenheim Fellow, has served as a mentor to Washington National Opera’s American Opera Initiative for young composers and librettists for the past two seasons. Upcoming commissions include Great Scott (McNally) for The Dallas Opera, starring Joyce DiDonato; The Radio Hour (Scheer) for the John Alexander Singers; a new project for Houston Grand Opera; songs for Kiri Te Kanawa at Ravinia; and The Work at Hand, Symphonic Songs for mezzo Jamie Barton and cellist Anne Martindale-Williams, co-commissioned by the Pittsburgh Symphony and Carnegie Hall.



TerrenceMcNallythumbnailTERRENCE MCNALLY (LIBRETTIST) received the 2011 Dramatists Guild Lifetime Achievement Award and has won four Tony Awards for his plays Love! Valor! Compassion! and Master Class, and his books for the musicals Ragtime and Kiss of the Spiderwoman. His most recent play, Mothers and Sons, received a 2014 Tony Award Nomination for Best Play and marked his 20th Broadway production. In 2010, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts honored him with a festival of his work, Terrence McNally’s Nights at the Opera. His large body of work also includes the plays Golden Age, Away We Go, Frankie and Johnny at the Clair de Lune, Lips Together, Teeth Apart, The Lisbon Traviata, Corpus Christi, Some Men, A Perfect Ganesh, It’s Only a Play, as well as books for the musicals The Full Monty, A Man of No Importance and The Visit. He also wrote librettos for the operas Dead Man Walking and Great Scott, both with composer Jake Heggie.



The Journey of Dead Man Walking

Terrence McNally and I both felt strongly that we wanted our opera to be a contemporary American drama. Dead Man Walking is a story of our time, but it has a sense of timelessness to it. It is a distinctly American story, but it has universal resonance. The drama is such that it makes sense for people to sing and it is large enough to fill an opera house, yet it is incredibly intimate. It is a story that takes us deep into the most difficult struggles we can experience as human beings. It takes us to places that only get intensified with music. The more we talked about it, the more it seemed like an opera just waiting for the music.

Terrence told me from the beginning that he is not a poet or a traditional librettist; he is a playwright. His intention was to write a play and to create language and situations that would inspire music. He recognized that an opera is about the music and that he would do whatever he could to serve that. If I had a musical idea that was taking me in a certain direction, I should follow it. If his words didn’t work for me, I was free to add my own and check with him later. It’s about the most generous and gratifying collaboration a composer could hope for.

We were determined not to fall into a few obvious traps. As much as we admired and respected Sister Helen and her non-fiction book Dead Man Walking, this was not going to be a documentary or a biography. It would also not be a “soap-box” opera trying to push a political agenda.  And we did not want to try to recreate Tim Robbins’ brilliant movie, either. We would go from the book, changing and adapting it to work specifically for the opera stage. Our goal was to tell the story honestly and without any preaching — to go with Sister Helen on her journey to that difficult place and to let people make up their own minds.

Why is Sister Helen such an operatic character? Against the enormous background of the prison system, death row, and a man convicted of a monstrous crime, there is this one small woman and her faith: her belief in the individual dignity of every person on this earth. She travels this path as a kind of “everyman,” and it is easy for us to go along with her: from the security of working with children in the projects, to meeting a convicted killer, then his family, then the families of the murder victims, to an execution chamber, all propelling her to a place of spiritual crisis and ultimate resolution. At first, Sister Helen seems like one of your gal pals with a great sense of humor and a zest for life. When the journey begins, neither we, nor she, are aware of what incredible bravery and power there is inside her when she is tested. But I think it puts all of us to the test. How much could I take? How far could I go? How strong am I? What are my convictions?

It is this that makes all of the characters in the story operatic, for they’re all regular folks thrown into a tornado, all being tested, strained, and pushed to the edge. As for the concept of capital punishment, the story puts a human face on it and takes it out of the abstract. It’s no longer a comfortable question one can consider while watching television or reading the paper. Real people, real lives are at stake at every turn in this story.

New casts and new productions bring different perspectives to the roles as Sister Helen and Joseph DeRocher’s compelling journey continues to capture the imagination. Hopefully, our opera will continue to take people right along with them.

Jake Heggie




NICOLE PAIEMENT (ARTISTIC DIRECTOR/CONDUCTOR/FOUNDER) has gained an international reputation as a conductor of contemporary music and opera. Her numerous recordings include many world premiere works and she has toured extensively in the US and Asia. Paiement is an active Guest Conductor. She has recently been appointed Principal Guest Conductor at The Dallas Opera where she appeared in February 2014 to conduct performances of Tod Machover’s Death and the Powers (libretto by Robert Pinsky). Nicole Paiement earned rave reviews in her 2012 Dallas Opera debut conducting Peter Maxwell Davies’ 1979 thriller, The Lighthouse.  At the time, Wayne Lee Gay of D Magazine’s Front Row blog wrote: “She combined old-fashioned precision and discipline with up-to-the-minute insight into the complex modernity of the score.” In Januray 2015, she will return to conduct the world premiere of Joby Talbot’s opera Everest. In December of 2014, she will appear as guest conductor with the Washington National Opera. With Opera Parallèle, Paiement has conducted many new productions including the World premiere of the commissioned chamber version of John Harbison’s The Great Gatsby, the West Coast premiere of John Rea’s re-orchestration of Berg’s Wozzeck, Osvaldo Golijov’s Ainadamar and the commission of Dante De Silva’s opera Gesualdo, Prince of Madness – presented as a graphic opera.

In the wake of highly praised performances of Francis Poulenc’s Les mamelles de Tirésias and Kurt Weill’s Mahagonny Songspiel last April, about which Suzanne Weiss of Culture Vulture wrote: “If more people knew that opera could be this cool, more people would go to the opera.” Additionally, Nicole Paiement is the Artistic Director of the BluePrint Project – a new music series sponsored by the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. With this music series, she has commissioned, premiered and recorded works from many living American composers.  Paiement previously served as the Director of Ensembles at the University of California, Santa Cruz, where she conducted the orchestra and opera productions.

BRIAN STAUFENBIEL (CREATIVE DIRECTOR) has helmed the direction and design of Opera Parallèle’s productions since 2007 and is an active cross-disciplinary director and designer. Recent guest directing includes the staging of Schoënberg’s Pierrot Lunaire; the world premiere of Allen Shearer’s The Dawn Makers; the Korean premiere of David Jones’ Bardos; and the Australian premiere of Hi Kyung Kim’s Rituel III. This year, Staufenbiel designed and directed the world premiere of Angel Heart, performed at both Cal Performances in Berkeley and Carnegie Hall in New York City. He shared a residency at Banff with composer Luna Pearl Woolf to create an original theater piece for Percussion, Violin and Cello which was premiered this last May in Montréal. Staufenbiel is also the director of the opera program at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and holds a DMA from the Eastman School of Music.

LAURA ANDERSON (STAGE MANAGER) In addition to her work with Opera Parallèle, Laura Anderson’s recent projects include productions with Rork Music, the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and TEDx Berkeley. Anderson was the production stage manager for the live performance portion of the Emmy-nominated Twin Cities Public Television documentary, Parables, featuring the opera of the same name by Robert Aldridge and Herschel Garfein. She holds a doctorate in opera studies from the University of Minnesota.

MATTHEW ANTAKY (LIGHTING DESIGNER) has created and collaborated on installation, scenic, and lighting designs for all of the performing arts including dance, opera, theater, and music for nearly 30 years. In addition to Opera Parallèle, his design credits include Utah Opera, Opera Pacific, Festival Opera, Dallas Symphony, the San Francisco World Music Festival, Opera San Jose, the Cabrillo Music Festival, and The Oakland Symphony. He is an eight-time nominee (1999 –2013) and four-time recipient of the Isadora Duncan Award.

FREDERIC BOULAY (PROJECTION DESIGNER) has worked in symphony, theatre, dance, and circus as director of production, project manager, technical director, and rigger in more than two hundred fifty productions in France and the United States since 1989. Recently, he has worked with Opera Parallèle, Festival Opera, Birmingham Opera, Santa Barbara Opera, Lamplighters Music Theatre, Oakland East Bay Symphony, World Music Festival, and Cirque du Soleil. He holds an MBA from the University of Utah.

CHRISTINE CROOK (COSTUME DESIGNER) began designing costumes for Opera Parallèle in 2011. Crook’s designs are also seen all over the Bay Area with companies like Magic Theatre, Marin Theatre Company, Cal Shakes, Shotgun Players, Encore Theatre, Aurora Theatre, Boxcar Theatre, San Francisco Playhouse, UC Berkeley, Center Repertory, Just Theater, Festival Opera, and Berkeley Playhouse. She also designed costumes for Lucia di Lammermoor with LA Opera for their 2013/14 season.

DAVE DUNNING (SET DESIGNER) is the head of Legend Theatrical design. He has been involved in the theater community throughout California, providing lighting design as well as scenic design and construction for many drama and dance productions, including Twelfth Night, the West Coast premiere of Grace and Glory, and Mendocino Music Festival’s award-winning Dame Edna: The Royal Tour.  Dunning designed the sets for Opera Parallèle’s productions of Young Caesar and Orphée.

DAVID MURAKAMI (MEDIA DESIGNER) is an award-winning film director, writer, and theatrical multi-media designer working towards integrating innovative technologies with traditional performance on stage. He has designed experimental set-pieces ranging from the classic works of Henrik Ibsen, to the vaudeville reunion of the Flying Karamazov Brothers, to the science fiction of Ray Bradbury, and has directed actors ranging from university students to members of the Royal Shakespeare Company.

KEISUKE NAKAGOSHI (RESIDENT PIANIST) has performed on concert stages across the United States, including the Kennedy Center, Carnegie Hall, the Hollywood Bowl, and Davies Hall. He recently made a solo debut with San Francisco Symphony on Ingvar Lidholm’s Poesis with Herbert Blomstedt conducting. Since 2009, he has been a member of ZOFO, a professional piano four-hands ensemble, recognized for its artistry and innovative programming. Nakagoshi is also Pianist-in-Residence at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.

KT NELSON (CHOREOGRAPHER) is ODC/Dance Co-Artistic Director. She joined ODC/Dance in 1976 and has choreographed over 60 works. In 1986, Nelson choreographed and directed the company’s first full-length family ballet, The Velveteen Rabbit, which has since been performed annually in the Bay Area as well as toured nationwide, reaching an audience of over 350,000. Nelson has been awarded the Isadora Duncan award four times.

JEANNA PARHAM (WIG AND MAKE UP DESIGNER) began her career in San Jose where she designed for many South Bay theaters. Since moving to San Francisco, in addition to Opera Parallèle she has been creating designs for the American Conservatory Theater, Opera San Jose, TheatreWorks, Broadway by the Bay, and the University of California, Santa Cruz Opera Theater. In the fall of 2014 Ms. Parham will be the Head of the Wig and Makeup Department for the San Francisco Opera.