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Dead Man Walking at the Met: A Walk Through Four Critical Takes

By Michael Vincent on October 2, 2023

“Striking the Right Notes, But Missing the Beat?”

Last week, The Metropolitan Opera kicked off the 2023-24 season with the company premiere of Jake Heggie’s “Dead Man Walking” —  the opera that changed opera.

The Met production features performances by Joyce DiDonato as Sister Helen, Ryan McKinny as Joseph De Rocher, Latonia Moore as Sister Rose, and Susan Graham as De Rocher’s mother, under a new production directed by Ivo van Hove and conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin.

Let’s dive into the opinions from the Washington Post, The New York Times, Financial Times, and OperaWire, unravelling what critics think about this bold new production (so far).

1. Washington Post: A Symphony of Discomfort

“Dead Man Walking” takes the audience on a thrilling, albeit discomforting, journey, reflecting the inherent violence in the American prison system. While powerful, it also painted a vivid, perhaps overly detailed portrait of violence and execution that seemed to clash with the carefully composed world of Heggie’s music, leaving audiences captivated but somewhat unsettled.

Full review here.

2. The New York Times: Gripped but Bored

Praising the soaring music of Jake Heggie and the stylish production, The Times acknowledges the opera’s stark portrayal of the final execution scene. However, it also mentions the opera’s inability to deliver riveting drama or tight conflict. While the viewer might be gripped, they might find themselves, paradoxically, bored. There are scenes that overstay their welcome, straining the audience’s patience. We’re not quite sure how it can be gripping and boring simultaneously, but critic Zachary Woolfe seems to think so.

Full review here.

3. Financial Times: Visual Discord in a Lyrical Harmony

With its 4 out of 5 stars, Financial Times leans more towards a favourable view, highlighting the profoundly moving portrayals and the resonating lyrical music. However, it also emphasized the unbalanced production by Ivo van Hove, with visual elements seeming either excessive or insufficient, affecting the drama’s commitment and portrayal.

Full review here.

4. David Salazar of OperaWire: A Mixed Bag of Theatrical Fusion

Salazar’s review highlights the emotive music and standout performances that symbolize a transformative era for The Met. However, it points out the conflicting blend of film and theatre by Ivo van Hove as a distracting element, diminishing character connection and the essence of live performance.

Full review here.

The Verdict?

Despite the variance in critical viewpoints, the word is still out on “Dead Man Walking”. What is true is that this is one of the most talked about new operas in recent memory.

Dead Man Walking” continues through Oct. 21, 2023.

Michael Vincent
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