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Heggie: Dead Man Walking / Summers, Bruggergosman, Didonato, Von Stade

Heggie / Didonato,Joyce
Release Date: 04/24/2012 
Label:  Erato   Catalog #: 2463   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Jake Heggie
Performer:  Measha BrüggergosmanJoyce DiDonatoFrederica Von StadePhilip Cutlip
Conductor:  Patrick Summers
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Houston Grand Opera Orchestra
Number of Discs: 2 
Length: 2 Hours 22 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

“Cathartic, uplifting and humanizing” wrote the Houston Chronicle, reporting on this Houston Grand Opera production of Jake Heggie’s Dead Man Walking. Joyce DiDonato as Sister Helen Prejean, who becomes a counsellor to murderer on death row in Louisiana, shares the stage with her idol, veteran mezzo Frederica von Stade, here making her farewell to opera.

“Joyce DiDonato returns to her New York City Opera role as Sister Helen and her life-changing portrayal proves an absolute revelation,” wrote the Houston Chronicle when the American mezzo soprano assumed the role of the nun Sister Helen Prejean in Jake Heggie’s opera Dead Man Walking, premiered in 2000 in San Francisco and staged with DiDonato at Houston Grand Opera in late
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Like Tim Robbins’ Oscar-winning 1995 movie of the same name, which starred Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn, the opera draws on Sister Helen’s real-life memoirs: a leading advocate for abolition of the death penalty in the USA, she acted as a counsellor to a prisoner on death row in Louisiana. “However great an operatic and theatrical experience,” continued the Houston Chronicle, “Dead Man Walking makes its greatest impact as a purely human one.”

As Joyce DiDonato told the New York Times: “I first did Sister Helen at New York City Opera in 2002. It was extraordinary as a young American to be involved in something that so directly reflects things our society is going through. Dead Man Walking poses questions directly applicable to our society today … I’ve never felt a piece hit an audience so hard. There was an electricity in the theatre.”

Quite apart from the power of the opera itself, the production had a special personal significance for DiDonato. Her career was launched in the late 1990s with her three years on Houston Grand Opera’s young artists programme, and in this production she was sharing a stage with her idol, fellow mezzo soprano Frederica von Stade. Playing Mrs de Rocher, the mother of the convicted murderer, von Stade made her farewell to the operatic stage with this production.

“The rafters [shook] …” wrote Opera magazine, “thanks to the ovations for Joyce DiDonato, Philip Cutlip [playing the convicted Joseph De Rocher], the music director Patrick Summers and perhaps especially for Frederica von Stade, whose recreation of the role of the convicted murderer’s grieving mother in this run ended this beloved artist’s 41-year operatic career … DiDonato sang luminously, affectingly conveying the altruistic nun’s conflicting emotions … Von Stade was dramatically and musically heartbreaking in a role written for her, Measha Brueggergosman’s glowing soprano and spunky acting enriched her portrayal of Sister Rose … Summers … was in total sync with Heggie’s churning, throbbing, colourful score … Leonard Foglia’s staging was … chillingly effective.”
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Works on This Recording

Dead Man Walking by Jake Heggie
Performer:  Measha Brüggergosman (Soprano), Joyce DiDonato (Mezzo Soprano), Frederica Von Stade (Mezzo Soprano),
Philip Cutlip (Bass)
Conductor:  Patrick Summers
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Houston Grand Opera Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1998-2000; USA 

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