Lyric Premiere & New-to-Chicago Production Dead Man Walking

By Jake Heggie & Terrence McNally

  • Language - Sung in English with projected English text
  • Running Time - 2 hours, 55 minutes with 1 intermission

A young couple is brutally killed, and the convicted murderer, Joseph De Rocher, sits on death row. 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. Based on real-life events, Jake Heggie’s music and Terrence McNally’s libretto explore the nature of friendship and forgiveness in the most profound ways. Hugely acclaimed in major houses internationally, Dead Man Walking is widely acknowledged as one of the most riveting operas of the 21st century. It simply demands to be seen.

Content Advisory: Please be advised that Dead Man Walking opens with a scene of sexual violence. The opera contains explicit language and mature themes.

Upcoming Dates
Full Calendar

This production of Dead Man Walking was presented at Lyric November 2 – 22, 2019. Visit the Lyric Opera calendar to see what is currently on stage.


Big-picture beautiful, orchestrally rich, and emotionally true

Chicago Sun-Times

Jake Heggie’s evocative score and Terrence McNally’s illuminating libretto take us deep into a tragic story in ways that neither a book nor a film can

Chicago Tribune

Dead Man Walking powerfully probes guilt and redemption

Chicago Tribune

There was that telltale extra moment of silence at the act’s end, like a collective holding of breath that comes with the tension of a many-sided story that has everything to do with our common humanity

Chicago Sun-Times

Heggie's score is a seamless mesh of styles

Musical America

Learn More

Dead Man Walking

By Jake Heggie & Terrence McNally

The music featured is generously furnished by Warner Classics.

"He will gather us around"
0:00 /0:00
"This journey"
0:00 /0:00
"God's love and forgiveness"
0:00 /0:00

Dead Man Walking

By Jake Heggie & Terrence McNally

Lyric Opera Commentaries are sponsored by the Patrick G. and Shirley Welsh Ryan Foundation in memory of their parents.

Commentary by Wynne Delacoma
0:00 /0:00


Time early 1980s | Place Louisiana

Program Book

Go inside this production of Dead Man Walking with engaging articles, notes from the director, a complete plot synopsis, artist bios, and more.


Meet the Artists

Patricia Racette

Sister Helen

Susan Graham

Mrs. De Rocher

Ryan McKinny*

Joseph De Rocher

Whitney Morrison†

Sister Rose

Clay Hilley*

Father Grenville

Gordon Hawkins

George Benton

Nicole Paiement*


Leonard Foglia


Katrina Bachus

Associate Director

Michael McGarty*

Set Designer

Jess Goldstein*

Costume Designer

Brian Nason

Lighting Designer

Elaine McCarthy

Projection Designer

Michael Black

Chorus Master

* Lyric debut
† Ryan Opera Center alumna

Pre-Opera Talks

Join us in the theater one hour before the curtain rises for a free, 30-minute preview talk about the opera. Learn more about pre-opera talks.

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.

Photo: Ken Howard