Dead Man Walking

Past Production

He’s a convicted killer. She’s devoted her life to God. What could they possibly have to say to one another?

A true story that spawned a best-selling book and an Academy Award-winning movie, Jake Heggie’s Dead Man Walking tells of Sister Helen Prejean and her time as spiritual advisor to Joseph de Rocher, a murderer on death row. The most performed new American opera of the 21st Century, Dead Man Walking “makes the most concentrated impact of any piece of American music theater since West Side Story.” (The Guardian).

Don’t miss this magnificent work that will penetrate your heart and mind, starring superstar mezzo-soprano and Georgia native Jamie Barton as Sister Helen and Michael Mayes as de Rocher.

A co-production of The Israeli Opera, previously performed at New Orleans Opera

Performed in English with English supertitles

Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre


Dead Man Walking contains simulated cigarette smoking, gunshots, strong language, simulated nudity, violence, and a graphic depiction of a sexual assault. Not recommended for audience members under the age of 15.



All Performances: Pre-show fine dining
$53 for Sat, Tues, Fri dinner
$42.40 for Sun brunch

Final Dress Rehearsal

Thursday, January 31: Teachers with students may attend the final dress rehearsal for FREE
Available soon

Opera’s Night Out

Friday, February 8: Young professionals enjoy a pre-show cocktail hour + ticket to the show
$40 for Under 40


All Performances: Save up to 25%
For groups of 10 or more

Student Rush Tickets

All Performances: Students with ID may purchase discount tickets two hours in advance at the Cobb Energy Centre
$25 – 35 per seat

Get the Feeling

Photos by Tom Grosscup for New Orleans Opera

Approximate runtime: 2 hours 40 minutes including 1 intermission


Composer: Jake Heggie
Librettist: Terrence McNally
Premiere Date: October 7, 2000, San Francisco Opera


Two teenagers are brutally murdered by Joseph and Anthony De Rocher.

Act I

In a poor New Orleans school, Sister Helen and Sister Rose teach a hymn to a group of children. Helen is distracted as she thinks about her plan to visit Angola State Penitentiary where her new pen pal, a death row inmate named Joseph De Rocher, has asked her to visit. Against Rose’s advice, Helen makes the long drive to Angola and ponders the momentous step she is taking. A motor cop stops her for speeding, but lets her off with a warning, asking her to pray for his sick mother. As she resumes her journey, she prays for guidance.

When she arrives, Helen is greeted by the prison chaplain, Father Grenville. On the way to his office, they see inmates engaged in a rough game of basketball. Helen and Grenville then have a tense meeting in which the chaplain angrily warns her that she is wasting her time, and that Joseph is beyond anyone’s help. The prison warden arrives and tells her that Joe is likely to ask her to become his spiritual advisor to help prepare him for his execution. As she walks to the death row section of the prison, Helen is taunted by the inmates.

Characters & Cast

Sister Helen Prejean

A nun with the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Medaille who befriends convicted killer Joseph De Rocher.

Jamie Barton

Mezzo-soprano and Georgia native Jamie Barton is a highly sought after artist who has been hailed as “a great artist, no question with an imperturbable steadiness of tone…” (The Guardian).

More >

Joseph De Rocher

A death row inmate who forms an unlikely friendship with Sister Helen.

Michael Mayes

Baritone Michael Mayes has been praised for his “powerful” voice and “arresting stage presence.” 


Mrs. De Rocher

Joseph’s grieving mother who maintains his innocence and finds solace through Sister Helen.

Maria Zifchak

Hailed as a “rich-voiced mezzo-soprano” (New York Times), Maria Zifchak returns to The Atlanta Opera after singing the role of Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd.


Sister Rose

A nun with the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Medaille who tries to be the voice of reason for her friend Sister Helen.

Karen Slack

Hailed by critics for possessing a lustrous voice, soprano Karen Slack has performed with major conductors in opera houses and concert halls around the world.


George Benton

Warden at Louisiana State Penitentiary.

Kevin Burdette

American bass Kevin Burdette has already impressed audiences on both sides of the Atlantic with his mellifluous voice and strongly dramatic characterizations.


Father Grenville

Chaplain at Louisiana State Penitentiary.

Jay Hunter Morris

A veteran of the operatic and concert stages, Morris’ 2016-17 season began with a revival of one of his greatest roles, including Captain Ahab in Jake Heggie’s Moby-Dick at the Dallas Opera.


Owen Hart

Father of the murdered teenage girl.

Wayne Tigges

Quickly establishing himself as one of the bright young stars in opera today, Wayne Tigges has sung at many of the great opera houses of the world, including The Metropolitan Opera, San Francisco Opera, and Paris Opera.


Newbie Guide

The Opera Experience

Operas on our mainstage are grand theatrical experiences. You can always expect the unexpected, and for our productions to be presented at the highest quality.


Many operas are in a foreign language. Supertitles are similar to subtitles in a film, except they are projected above the stage. These translations will help you follow what’s happening on stage.

What to Wear

There is no dress code at The Opera and you will see everything from jeans to evening gowns and formal suits. Most people use it as a chance to enjoy dressing up in their own style.

Arriving in Good Time

If you are late, you will be escorted to the nearest late seating area. At intermission ushers will show you to your seat. Plan ahead to arrive with extra time.

Directions & Parking at Cobb Energy Center

Enhance Your Visit

Pre-Performance Talk

Learn about the history of the opera, the composer, and more from artists and opera aficionados. One hour prior to curtain. Free with your ticket!

Learn More

Familiarizing Yourself with the Story

Because of the foreign languages, classical music, and often complex plots, you will very likely enjoy the performance better if you spend a few minutes familiarizing yourself with the story and characters in advance. Some people even like to listen to the music in advance and others prefer to let it wash over them during the show and perhaps look it up afterwards.

Visit our Study Guides Library

How is an Opera Staged?


Actors first audition for roles up to a year in advance, or for more experienced artists, directors also invite them to play a role.


Most of the rehearsals are held in our rehearsal hall, and not the actual theatre. The conductor begins orchestra rehearsals about a week and half before opening night. They have four rehearsals with the conductor, and then the singers are added into the mix.

Sets & Costumes

The Atlanta Opera Costume Shop alters the costumes to fit our singers. Sometimes they do have to make costumes if there aren’t enough, or if there is nothing that fits, etc. Once the sets are in place, the cast begins rehearsing at the theatre. The Opera production staff works with staff at the theatre to get all of the lighting and technical aspects of the production together.

Sitzprobe & Dress Rehearsal

The orchestra comes together with the singers in a special rehearsal called sitzprobe. There are no costumes during the sitzprobe, this is mainly to hear the voices with the orchestra. There is a piano dress rehearsal, when the singers rehearse in full costume for the first time so they can get used to wearing them. Finally, all of the pieces are put together for two full dress rehearsals leading up to opening night.


Jake Heggie

Jake Heggie is the American composer of the operas Dead Man Walking (libretto by Terrence McNally), Moby-Dick (libretto by Gene Scheer), It’s A Wonderful Life (Scheer), Great Scott (McNally), Three Decembers (Scheer), To Hell and Back (Scheer), Out of Darkness: Two Remain (Scheer), At the Statue of Venus (McNally) and The Radio Hour: A Choral Opera (Scheer). He is currently at work on If I Were You (Scheer) a new opera based on the Faustian story by Julian Green, commissioned by the Merola Opera Program for Summer of 2019. Heggie has also composed nearly 300 art songs, as well as concerti, chamber music, choral and orchestral works, including the Ahab Symphony.

The operas – most created with the distinguished writers Terrence McNally or Gene Scheer – have been produced on five continents. In February 2017, Dead Man Walking received its 50th international production at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC in a new production by director Francesca Zambello. Since its San Francisco Opera premiere in 2000, Dead Man Walking has been performed more than 300 times and recorded live twice (Erato Records in 2001; Virgin Classics in 2011). In addition to major productions throughout the USA, Dead Man Walking has been seen in Dresden, Vienna, Sydney, Adelaide, Calgary, Montreal, Cape Town, Dublin, Copenhagen, and Malmö, with future production set for Vancouver, Madrid and London. Moby-Dick has received seven international productions since its 2010 premiere at The Dallas Opera with future productions in the USA and Europe. The San Francisco Opera production was telecast as part of Great Performances’ 40th anniversary season and released on DVD (EuroArts). Moby-Dick received its East Coast premiere at the Kennedy Center in 2014. It is also the subject of a book by Robert Wallace, titled Heggie & Scheer’s Moby-Dick – A Grand Opera for the 21st Century (UNT Press). Three Decembers, Heggie & Scheer’s three-character chamber opera, has received nearly 20 productions internationally.

Composer of Operas


Terrence McNally

Playwright Terrence McNally was born in 1939 and grew up in Corpus Christi, Texas, listening to radio broadcasts of The Green Hornet and the Metropolitan Opera. McNally’s love of the opera and especially of the famous diva Maria Callas would surface in his work, most notably in his Tony award-winning Master Class (1996). His love of music also inspired him to collaborate on several musicals, including The Rink (1984), Kiss of the Spider Woman (1993), and Ragtime (1996).

Graduating Phi Beta Kappa from Columbia in 1960 with a degree in English, McNally enjoyed a fellowship in Mexico where he wrote a play that earned the attention of the Actors Studio and got him a job as a stage manager, allowing him to acquire some practical theatre experience. In 1961, he enjoyed bonding with John Steinbeck and his family, on tour with them through Europe as the Steinbeck children’s tutor.  After McNally’s first Broadway play And Things That Go Bump in the Night flopped, gaining notoriety for being 1964’s most scandalous, he went forward working odd jobs until his subsequent and successful play Next elevated him to full-time playwright status.



Joseph Mechavich

Conductor Joseph Mechavich is known for his exceptional artistry and infectious energy which he brings to every performance. His passion and commitment to excellence in the art form has helped his forge strong personal and career-defining relationships with a number of opera companies and orchestras in the United States and abroad.

Maestro Mechavich has presided over productions of Porgy and Bess for Deutsche Oper Berlin, Nixon in China for Auckland Philharmonia/New Zealand Opera, Il barbiere de Siviglia for The Washington National Opera, Madama Butterfly for New York City Opera, Florencia en el Amazonas for Arizona Opera and Romeo et Juliette for Florida Grand Opera. “One of the best things about this production [Romeo et Juliette] is the conducting of Joseph Mechavich, who led the proceedings superbly…You rarely hear this score with the kind of big-boned force with which Gounod wrote it, but Mechavich let it rip, with first rate results.” (Palm Beach Artspaper)



Tomer Zvulun

General and Artistic Director of The Atlanta Opera since 2013, Tomer Zvulun is also one of opera’s most exciting stage directors, earning consistent praise for his creative vision, often described as cinematic and fresh. His work has been presented by prestigious opera houses around the world, including The Metropolitan Opera, the opera companies of Seattle, San Diego, Dallas, Boston, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Buenos Aires, Wexford, New Orleans, Minnesota and Wolf Trap, as well as leading educational institutes and universities such as The Juilliard School, Indiana University, Boston University, and IVAI in Tel Aviv. His debut in New York was in a new production of L’heure espagnole and Gianni Schicchi at Juilliard Opera Center that was praised by The New York Times for its “witty, fast-paced staging and the director’s Felliniesque style.”

Known for creating innovative, visually striking new interpretations for standard operas as well as championing new works by contemporary composers, his work has been seen internationally in Europe, South and Central America, Israel, and the US. Recently he created critically acclaimed new productions of Semele (Seattle Opera) Lucia di Lammermoor (Seattle, Atlanta, Cleveland), La bohème (Seattle, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Atlanta), Lucrezia Borgia (Buenos Aires), Gianni Schicchi (Juilliard, IVAI Tel Aviv), L’heure espagnole (Juilliard), The Magic Flute (Cincinnati, Atlanta, Indiana University), Don Giovanni (Wolf Trap, Cincinnati), Die Fledermaus (Dallas, Kansas City), Falstaff (Wolf Trap, Des Moines), Rigoletto (Boston, Atlanta, Omaha), Madama Butterfly (Atlanta, Castleton Festival), Tosca (National Theatre Panama, Atlanta) and Dialogues of the Carmelites (IVAI Tel Aviv), among many others.