Dead Man Walking Intensified In Operatic Form

Dead Man Walking Intensified In Operatic Form

Staff Report

The most famous operas are some of the most powerful tragedies of all time, said professional opera singer and Fayetteville native, Tamara Ryan. “Like Carmen, and Madame Butterfly; they’re so tragic, but they’re two of the most commonly performed operas,” she said.

That’s not why she chose Jack Heggie’s Dead Man Walking as Opera Fayetteville’s second season opener — she said she just felt it was the right choice — but the already intense, real-life story only stands to make a greater impact on the audience in operatic form.

“There’s a modernism to it that I thought was really important,” Ryan said. “Although it doesn’t take a stand for or against the death penalty, everyone has to leave questioning what they believe.”

Photo By Terrah Baker
Fayetteville based Conductor Robert Mueller talks to Director Kyle Lang during a rehearsal for the operatic version of Dead Man Walking — a powerful, real-life story of a man on death row and a nun who’s trying to save his soul. The show will be performed Jan. 11 and Jan. 13.

Composed in 2000 to a libretto by Terrence McNally, the opera is based on the true-story written by Sister Helen Prejean about her experience acting as spiritual advisor to an inmate on death row. Its score has made this portrayal of her experience one of the most performed American operas in recent history and was described by London’s The Guardian as making “the most concentrated impact of any piece of American music theater since more than 40 years ago.”

The opera will be conducted by Fayetteville resident Robert Mueller and directed by Kyle Lang. Mueller is a Professor of Music at the University of Arkansas, conductor of the University of Arkansas Orchestra, Director of Music at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church and a prize-winning composer whose works have been performed around the country.

Lang hails from Bogalusa, La., and has danced on the stages of America’s finest opera houses, from Santa Fe to the Metropolitan Opera. He is well-respected for his work in choreography, costume-design and assistant direction and is excited to be making his directing debut with Opera Fayetteville.

The orchestra is comprised of the region’s most accomplished players, many of them regular performers with SoNA, the Arkansas Philharmonic, and the Fort Smith and Tulsa symphonies. An important part of the company’s mission is to promote talented emerging young singers, and, in keeping with this goal, January’s production features a remarkable array of performers at the beginning of their careers.

Fayetteville native, Tamara Ryan, started the company in May of 2011 after participating in a number of small-scale opera productions in her current city of Boston, Mass.

Performances will take place Jan. 11 at 7:30 p.m. and Jan. 13 at 3 p.m. in the Stella Boyle Smith Concert Hall at the University of Arkansas. Tickets may be purchased online at or at the door.

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