Murder, violence, love and repentance – Dead Man Walking premieres at the Eiffel Art Studios

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Dead Man Walking, the most significant piece of 21st century opera is to be presented by the Hungarian State Opera at the Eiffel Art Studios on 16 September 2020. Due to the epidemic situation, Jake Heggie's opera directed by András Almási-Tóth featuring Andrea Meláth and David Adam Moore under the baton of Gergely Vajda can only be seen once this autumn.

Sister Helen Prejean joined the Sisters of St. Joseph in Louisiana in 1957. In 1983, she moved into the St. Thomas Housing Project in New Orleans in order to live and work with the poor. While there, Sister Helen began corresponding with Patrick Sonnier, who had been sentenced to death for the murder of two teenagers. In the following months, she became spiritual advisor to another death row inmate. After witnessing these executions, Sister Helen decided to write her book Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty in the United States. The successful book was adapted into a critically acclaimed film in 1996 starring Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn. It also became the subject-matter of Jake Heggie's first opera presented by the San Francisco Opera. In the past two decades, Dead Man Walking was staged in several stages of the US, Canada and Europe including Dresden, Vienna, Malmö and London as well as in Israel.

Heggie's opera shows stylistic elements of Carlisle Floyd – known less in Europe, but a significant composer in 20th century America, as well as Menotti, Gershwin or Bernstein – all well-known in Hungary. The dramatic music follows precisely the emotional states of the characters, it features allusions to pop culture, the singing roles are fundamentally speech-based, with the melody and harmony reminiscent of classical American film scores.

The Hungarian State Opera production is staged by artistic director András Almási-Tóth. The stylised set features projected scenery created by Zsombor Czeglédi, Balázs Fügedi, and Norbert Tóth, whereas the authentic costumes were designed by Krisztina Lisztopád, the choreography was made by Eszter Lázár. The premiere performance features Andrea Meláth as Helen Prejean, and guest star David Adam Moore as Joseph de Rocher, who has already achieved fame and acclaim in the role in New York, Chicago, London and Milan. Further roles are performed by soloist of the Opera: Gabriella Fodor, Péter Balczó, Csaba Szegedi, Beatrix Fodor, Katalin Károlyi, Andrea Brassói-Jőrös, József Mukk and Antal Cseh. The Hungarian State Opera Orchestra, Chrous (chrous master: Gábor Csiki) and Children's Chorus (chrous master: Nikolett Hajzer) are conducted by Gergely Vajda.

After the 16 September premiere, the production is planned to return in February and March 2021. 

Photo by Valter Berecz

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