Is “Dead Man Walking” different than any other opera performed this season by L’Opéra de Montréal? Yes. Is it more accessible in language and storyline than most operas performed ever? Yes. Is it an obvious success? Well…
The story has been made fairly well known by an award winning film of the same name. “Dead Man Walking” is the touching story of Sister Helen Prejean (Allyson McHardy, Mezzo-Soprano), a nun who finds herself bringing comfort to Joseph De Rocher (Etienne Dupuis, Baritone) a man on death row, convicted of murder. Sister Helen must set aside her inner conflicts, and rely on her faith in a higher power, as she struggles to help Joe find peace before he faces his execution.
Performed in a layman’s English and stripped to the bare production bones, there is a lot to be said for a theatrical performance that doesn’t distract from the obviously poignant and heart wrenching storyline. However, in this instance I found myself the loser in the conflicts between a musical score that seemed too jovial for the heady subject matter, and a libretto that was more pedestrian and irreverent than steeped in the realism of a gritty environment.
Though Allyson McHardy showed commitment and tangible emotion in her portrayal of Sister Helen, I was never truly swept away by her voice. Her character carries this opera (often performing solo) but it was Kimberly Barber, in the role of Joseph’s disheartened yet hopeful mother, who stole the show. Etienne Dupuis has a strong and solid voice, and Chantale Nurse (Sister Rose) shined in her smaller but strong supporting part.
Striking me as more of a musical than an opera, I could never quite make the connection necessary to have such an intense and tragic story resonate within me.
The opera continues on March 12, 14 and 16 at Place des Arts.