The Urban Dictionary defines a “bucket list” as a “list of things to do before you die.” It’s derived from the phrase “kicked the bucket”. Many people have what is known as a bucket list, and we’re no different.
“Attend the Opera” is one of the items we crossed off last Friday evening. Thanks to a great friend, we were offered two tickets to the Opera “Dead Man Walking”, which is a part of this year’s series at the Des Moines Metropolitan Opera. We graciously accepted the tickets with fantastic seats. I’m far from being an expert on opera, but allow me to review the production we saw.
Prior to viewing the opera version of Dead Man Walking, I had read the book and saw the movie. I have also heard Sister Helen Prejean [pronounced PRAY-ĵahn] speak a few times on the incidents that lead her to write the book. Even though I’m not an expert on opera, I can surely comment on the opera through the experience I have in working toward abolition of the death penalty.
The basics of the story are in the opera: the fact that two teenagers were killed; a man was sentenced to death; a nun became his spiritual advisor; the nun’s lack of reaching out to the victims’ parents before it was too late; and the fear, rage, love, confusion, passion, and other emotions that make this such a great story. All of that is portrayed in the book. Perhaps legal matters have something to do with it, but I can’t understand why Patrick Sonnier’s [pronounced SONE-ierre] name was changed to Joseph De Rocher [pronounced DAY RO-chey]. Nor do I know why he was executed by lethal injection on stage, while he was electrocuted in real life. Those may be minor distractions to someone who read the book and listened to Sister Helen. However, I am disappointed that lethal injection was substituted for electrocution because I do believe that electrocution demonstrates a more barbaric use of capital punishment.
The operatic version of Dead Man Walking was better than the movie version with Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn. I base this opinion on some of the laudable performances that portrayed the emotions in such a way that made you feel them. The entire production was awesome, but three performers stand out for me.
Wayne Tigges, a Bass-Baritone from Dubuque, who played Owen Hart, the father of the girl who was murdered, was my favorite. You could see the emotion in his eyes when he sang. And every part of his body was into the character and the song. Karen Slack, a Soprano from Philadelphia, played the role of Sister Rose. Ms. Slack’s voice and her acting brought me closer to the real-life role Sister Rose played in Sister Helen’s decisions. The role of Joseph De Rocher’s mother was played by Margaret Lattimore, a Mezzo-Soprano from Port Jefferson, NY. I think she had a difficult part to play, and not only did she do it exceptionally, but the notes she sang had to have been meant just for her. I heard a lot of range in her sung lines.
Being the first opera I have attended, I had no idea what to expect. When we walked into the building there were people having a glass of wine, mingling with each other, and viewing the displays. There was a lack of signs to indicate where one should go to find a seat. A woman named Ellen approached us and noticed that we seemed to be new to the venue. She told us about the opera and how this particular opera is more like a musical than other operas; that it is an American opera (lyrics are in English); the season’s series; opera in general; and other informative tips. She represented the Des Moines Metro Opera with splendor. Ellen was warm, genuine, and pleasant. We were thrilled that the DMMO provides such a service through its Board.
We may have deleted “Attend the Opera” from our bucket list, but I want to add “La Traviata”, “The Barber of Seville”, and “Carmen”. Realistically, we’re going to have to cross a few other things off the list before I’m going to be able to add anything.
I am excited to have experienced my first opera, and to have that opera be “Dead Man Walking” is a dream come true.