Lyric Opera of Chicago

November 2 - 22

Lyric Premiere & New-To-Chicago Production

A young couple is brutally killed, and the convicted murderer, Joseph De Rocher, sits on death row. A Louisiana nun, Sister Helen Prejean, agrees to be his spiritual adviser. As she meets his family, and the families of his victims, she begins questioning every attitude she has about how human beings treat each other.

  • Inspired by a true storyFirst came the New York Times best-selling book (Pulitzer Prize-nominated in 1993), then the Academy Award-winning film starring Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn, then the profoundly moving opera.

  • Exceptionally successful: Widely acknowledged as one of the most riveting operas of the 21st century, Dead Man Walking has received over 60 productions on five continents since its premiere in 2000. 

  • A message from Lyric’s general director, Anthony Freud: “Many of the most deeply complex issues human beings will ever face are at the heart of many great operas, including this one. In the emotional and spiritual journeys of its two central characters, Dead Man Walking makes us think in new ways about basic, life-changing ideas of guilt, innocence, punishment, and forgiveness. The opera offers audiences an unsparingly honest, devastatingly moving libretto set to superbly imaginative, instantly accessible, totally memorable music. The full impact of the piece in the opera house is something you will never forget.”

  • Powerhouse creators: Composer Jake Heggie teamed with Tony Award-winning playwright-screenwriter-librettist Terrence McNally to write “the most successful of contemporary American operas” (Washington Post).

  • Arias, ensembles, melodies: Heggie’s score incorporates traditional operatic forms and incorporates a poignant spiritual as a recurring motif. Conductor Nicole Paiement (Lyric debut) and chorus master Michael Black will hone Lyric’s musical forces for an unforgettable experience. (You can listen to audio samples here.)

  • Brilliant, committed cast brings passion and nuance to their portrayals: Soprano Patricia Racette returns to Lyric for her role debut as Sister Helen, spiritual adviser to the condemned Joseph DeRocher portrayed by baritone Ryan McKinny (Lyric debut and role debut), with mezzo-soprano Susan Graham, who created the role of Sister Helen, now portraying Joseph’s mother. The cast also includes recent Ryan Opera Center alumna Whitney Morrison as Sister Rose.

  • Starkly affecting production staged by director Leonard Foglia; with sets by Michael McGarty, costumes by Jess Goldstein, and sound by Roger Gans (all Lyric debuts); lighting by Brian Nason and projections by Elaine McCarthy.

  • Six performances: November 2, 6, 10, 13, 16, 22 (bold = matinees).

  • 2 hours and 55 minutes, including 1 intermission.

  • Sung in English with English translations projected above the stage.

  • Free 30-minute pre-opera talks in the theater an hour before every performance. 

  • For more information and to order tickets, visit or call 312-827-5600 ($39-$299, subject to change).

  • For information about pre-performance dining options at Lyric, visit to learn about on-site restaurants, beverage service, and more.

  • Special event at Lyric: The extraordinary Sister Helen Prejean, whose memoir inspired the opera, will join composer Jake Heggie for a discussion in the Graham Room at the Lyric Opera House on October 3, moderated by George Preston, WFMT’s general manager. For more information, go to: or call 312-827-5600.

  • Chicago Humanities Festival Partnership: On October 31 from 6-7:30pm, Sister Helen Prejean will speak about Dead Man Walking, both the opera and book, as well as her new book River of Fire, at First United Methodist Church of Chicago (77 W Washington St). The event will also feature brief performances from the opera. For More information go to

About Lyric

Lyric Opera of Chicago's mission is to express and promote the life-changing, transformational, revelatory power of great opera. Lyric exists to provide a broad, deep, and relevant cultural service to Chicago and the nation, and to advance the development of the art form.

Founded in 1954, Lyric is dedicated to producing and performing consistently thrilling, entertaining, and thought-provoking opera with a balanced repertoire of core classics, lesser-known masterpieces, and new works; to creating an innovative and wide-ranging program of community engagement and educational activities; and to developing exceptional emerging operatic talent.

Under the leadership of general director, president & CEO Anthony Freud, music director Sir Andrew Davis, and creative consultant Renée Fleming, Lyric strives to become The Great North American Opera Company for the 21st century: a globally significant arts organization embodying the core values of excellence, relevance, and fiscal responsibility.

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Content advisory: This opera contains nudity, graphic violence, and explicit language.

Production Sponsors

Production owned by Lyric Opera of Chicago. Originally created by Opera Pacific, Cincinnati Opera, New York City Opera, Austin Lyric Opera, Michigan Opera Theatre, Pittsburgh Opera, and Baltimore Opera.
Music by Jake Heggie. Libretto by Terrence McNally. Based on the novel by Sister Helen Prejean, CSJ. Commissioned by San Francisco Opera.