A passion, a book, a movie, and now a Tulsa Opera presentation, Dead Man Walking, is a journey from thoughtless violence, pain, to justice and the American legal system, but ultimately it's about finding the redemptive power of love. It's a provoking and stirring tale in the pop culture that follows Sister Helen, pen pal and spiritual advisor to Joseph De Rocher, convicted murderer on death row.
"The Tulsa Opera premiere of Jake Heggie's Dead Man Walking is an important cultural event for Tulsa," said Kostis Protopapas, artistic director for Tulsa Opera. "Dead Man Walking, the most successful American opera in more than 20 years, is a powerful and thought-provoking work of musical theater based on a true life story.
"Throughout its four-century history, opera has persistently tackled important human and social issues, creating a theatrical experience of depth based on the relevance of art that can transform ordinary existence into an eloquently styled art form that speaks about the human condition through powerful music.
"A deeply moving and lyrical work of grand opera, Dead Man Walking is a proud continuation of this tradition, and gives proof that opera is a living art form with a direct relationship to contemporary life," Kostis said.
"The privilege of collaborating with the great playwright Terrence McNally, the amazing Sister Helen Prejean, and the entire original cast and creative team...plus being able to immerse myself daily in the tornado of these characters' lives," says Heggie, "it made me reflect deeply about the big issues: life, death, parents, children, choices, love, loss, redemption, forgiveness, judgment, vengeance, and on and on. That's a remarkable gift -- to be able to reflect on all of that, and find a musical language to express it in a compelling drama of our time," Heggie said.
"As the composer, it was never to judge any of the characters, and never to preach to the audience; always to serve the drama in an engaging and vital way so that people could be drawn into the story, reflect and explore their own feelings about what they see and hear," Heggie said.
Heggie's work and the work of librettist, Terrence McNally, had a huge impact on the opera itself, but what impact did this work have on the composer?
"That's difficult to say. If an opera's going to work, then there must be something at stake in every scene. In this opera, it's a sense of life and death at every turn...so each scene had a big impact on me when writing. I remember it so well," Heggie said.
Kirstin Chavez makes her Tulsa Opera debut in the role of Sister Helen. Fresh from her acclaimed signature role of Carmen, this Mezzo-Soprano has been described as one of the most-riveting and significant young artists performing today.
"As one might imagine, the lives of a Spanish gypsy girl and a Catholic nun from the deep south are worlds apart! But there are good reasons why both characters can hold their own as the central figure of an important opera: they both have very strong personalities and deep-seated convictions.
"They both earn profound friendships as well as formidable adversaries because of their passions and beliefs. Naturally, the details we uncover through the lives of these two women are vastly different from one another, but they both offer me strong, purposeful shoes to step into, and I am honored to have the opportunity to explore the great depths and many facets of both," Chavez said.
"The Sister Helen Prejean that we will encounter in Tulsa will most certainly carry many traces of Kirstin Chavez! That said, there are many occasions in the opera in which I must challenge myself to respond in ways that I, Kirstin, would not naturally do! That is one of the great joys of being an actor: getting to explore new emotions and new ways of thinking and behaving!
"But I also find much in this opera's Sister Helen with which I can easily relate and empathize, and there are also treasured moments in which I find her calling me to better and more than I am. It is humbling and beautiful to have the privilege of portraying such an incredible human being."
Also making his Tulsa Opera debut is Michael Mayes, who plays death row inmate Joseph De Rocher.
"When I heard actors talk about wrestling with a character, I honestly always thought it was pretentious bullshit, but Joseph taught me my lesson about hubris, and continues to do so every day," Mayes said.
Mayes is known for his passionate portrayals of iconic characters, from Valentin in Faust to the title role in Don Gionvanni.
"Developing this character has really felt like developing a form of schizophrenia. I don't feel this way with every character I work on, some of the more complex characters have given me a taste of what it is like, but never have I felt so inhabited.
"With Joseph, when I'm in the cut, and things are lining up, when I feel that groove, I feel him...come upon me. It is truly unsettling. When the accent is just right, when I'm hitting all of the emotional targets, suddenly, I'm gone and he's here. All the anger, the hatred, the fear and bitterness, the rage and terror: these things I normally have to show when I'm acting, but with Joseph, its only necessary to be," Mayes said.
Local talent, Ian Weddle, tackles the beginning scene, which requires total nudity. "I play a teenage boy who is one of Joseph De Rocher's murder victims. Once I learned the details of the scene where the character is killed and remembered this is based on actual events made it difficult to process at first. I eventually had to realize that even though I will never be able to fully comprehend what it was like for the character, as long as I am sincere in my effort to portray him and my heart is in the right place, I know I will have done my best," Weddle said.
Tulsa Opera performs Dead Man Walking at the Chapman Music Hall of the Tulsa Performing Arts Center on Feb. 25 and March 2 at 7:30pm, and Sunday, March 4 at 2:30pm. All performances will be in English.
Tickets, including duet mini-subscriptions that include Dead Man Walking and Madame Butterfly start at $50, and can be purchased by calling the Tulsa Opera box office at 918-587-4811. Single tickets range from $10-$98 and can be purchased through myticketoffice.com. Dead Man Walking is not recommended for audiences under 18 years of age due to brief violence and nudity.
Victory, Valentine and...Vagina?
Funny, courageous, poignant and intelligent, Vagina Monologues will be performed at the University of Tulsa's Chapman Lecture Hall on Feb. 24-25 at 7:30pm on behalf of the V-day 2012 Campaign. There is also a Sunday matinee Feb. 26 at 3pm. The benefit production is sponsored by TU's Department of Women's and Gender Studies, Coalition for Women's Issues and Tulsa Institute for Trauma and Neglect.
The V-day campaign seeks to raise awareness in hopes of ending violence against women and girls.
"The Vagina Monologues is more than just a show; it's a message and a movement. It's about raising awareness for violence and abuse against women, but more importantly it's an empowering call to all women. It gives a voice to the voiceless and challenges everyone, man and woman, to step up and take responsibility to end violence.
"These monologues are the stories of every woman: your sister, your grandmother, your daughter, your co-worker, your best friend, and what's so great about the Monologues -- they give power to these everyday voices," said Zachary Harvat, co-director and TU student studying English, Education and Gender Studies.
From funny tales of "to shave or not to shave" to heavier themes of war, rape, trauma, being a part of this long line of the Vday presentation proves to be exciting for students.
"I love being a part of The Vagina Monologues! The performers have come together across disciplines and such a wide array of backgrounds. The show reflects this and I think the audience will be able to feel how much the actors have connected with the heartbreaking and hilarious tales of the women of the Monologues.
"The show is very universal -- I think the audience will have no trouble finding something to relate to. Vagina! Say it loud, say it proud," said Beth Geatches, an actor and TU student studying Mechanical Engineering.
Tickets are available at the door, or you can reserve tickets at email@example.com.
Thanks to the fantasy land Disney has painted for generations of young girls, the story of Cinderella is a well-worn bedtime story. Encore! Theatre Arts seeks to present the classic tale with a twist.
Load up your SUV with your brood and head over to the Tulsa Performing Arts Center Feb. 29 - March 3 to check out all the comedy, adventure, swordfights, magic and more as Encore! Theatre Arts performs The Lost Pages of Cinderella and the Phantom Fairy.
What surprises lie in the lost pages of this fun-filled, family adventure?
"The Stepmother hires a trio of villains to assassinate Cinderella, so that she will not attend the ball. The villains are inexperienced and fail repeatedly, resulting in some hilarious situations," said Josh Barker, president and artistic director of Encore.
"You'll see who the Evil Queen is before she becomes Snow White's stepmother. You'll see Puss in Boots' life as a house cat before he becomes the swashbuckling adventurer. You also see many other fairy tale characters' paths cross with each other, such as Red Riding Hood, Goldilocks, Jack and the Beanstalk, Sleeping Beauty, Ariel, and Rapunzel. This magical show is full of action and adventure, including pyrotechnics, sword fights, and a hilarious dance number when the entire ball is put under a spell. In writing this play, we have included humor for all ages, references that adults will appreciate, classic princesses for the girls, and action and slapstick humor for the boys. I'm sure every audience will fall out of their seat laughing, as we have at each rehearsal!"
Performances are Wednesday through Saturday at 7:30pm, and a Saturday matinee at 2pm. Tickets are $16 for adults, $13 for students and seniors, and $11 for children and groups of 10 or more. Tickets may be purchased at the PAC Ticket Office by phone 918-596-7111.
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