Dead Man Walking will leave KCMO audiences stunned and breathless

“Dead Man Walking” is about the spiritual journey of Sister Helen Prejean and convicted murderer Joseph de Rocher. Photo provided.

by Rob Howard
Associate Editor

Dead Man Walking is one of the most produced contemporary operas in existence. Kansas City Lyric Opera’s Artistic Administrator Brad Trexell cites, “The immediacy of the characters,” as a reason to produce the opera. “We’re still not used to seeing operas that are happening in our own time.”

The opera is based on a book by the same name by Sister Helen Prejean. The book became a movie starring Susan Sarandon as Sr. Prejean and Sean Penn as a convicted murderer facing execution.

Trexell says, “A lot of people have seen the movie. People know from the beginning what’s going to happen.” But the opera is not a diatribe against the death penalty. Trexell has seen several productions of the work, and says, “I don’t leave feeling that it is a diatribe against the death penalty; it leaves the audience to think about it themselves.”

Sr. Prejean is asked by convicted murderer Joseph de Rocher to be his spiritual advisor. The opera is the story of the profound spiritual journey taken by her and de Rocher, who is about to face the ultimate sentence.

As in the book, the opera delves into the conflict between the act of murder, society’s demand for retribution and the Christian foundation of redemption and forgiveness. Dead Man Walking is an unforgettable experience and promises to leave the audience stunned and breathless.

The libretto conveys the spiritual journey by the Sr. Prejean and de Rocher, as well as developing relationships with his family and the family of the victims. The set is stark. Trexell says, “The set is a lot of chain link fencing, bars, a lot of gray prison colors. The setting has conveyed that claustrophobic sense of being penned in, even for the audience, even if the stage is huge, it still makes that message clear.”

Missouri is a death penalty state. Producing the compelling opera is only part of Lyric Opera’s mission. Trexell says, Lyric Opera is “starting a community discussion about the topic, to start a conversation about the death penalty. Sr. Prejean will be coming. Both sides of the death penalty question will be working with us on panels and such to explore the issue.”

The Kansas City Lyric Opera set for “Dead Man Walking” is stark. Photo provided.

In addition to seeing Dead Man Walking on the opera stage, members of the community can take part in the panel discussions, or in the Kansas City Public Library’s book club, which will make Sr. Prejean’s book a club special selection for the month. A schedule of community events is available at Although for the most part free, the size of venues is limited. Those interested can obtain tickets to the events.

The production stars Kate Aldrich (Soprano) as Sr. Prejean, David Adam Moore (Baritone) as Joseph de Rocher, Maria Zifchak (Mezzo-Soprano) as Mrs. Patrick de Rocher, the convict’s mother and Karen Slack (Soprano) as Sister Rose.

Dead Man Walking performances are March 4, 8, and 10 at 7:30 p.m., and March 12 at 2 p.m. at Muriel Kauffman Theatre at Kauffman Center. Tickets are $39 to $184 and are on sale online at or by phone at (816) 471-7344.

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