Dead Man Walking makes the most concentrated impact of any piece of American music theater since West Side Story more than 40 years ago.”

Since its premiere in 2000, Dead Man Walking, the first opera by composer Jake Heggie and librettist Terrence McNally, has become one of the opera world’s most performed new works. Commissioned by San Francisco Opera (then headed by Lotfi Mansouri), it is based on the prize-winning book by Sister Helen Prejean, CSJ  and tells the modern-day story of a nun who becomes the spiritual advisor to a condemned man on Louisiana’s death row. The opera was first performed on October 7, 2000 at San Francisco’s War Memorial Opera House. Maestro Patrick Summers led the San Francisco Opera Orchestra and Chorus and a cast that included mezzo-soprano Susan Graham as Sister Helen, baritone John Packard as Joseph DeRocher, and mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade as his mother, Mrs. DeRocher. The production was directed by Joe Mantello and featured sets by Michael Yeargan, lighting by Jennifer Tipton, and costumes by Sam Flemming. The original run of seven performances was increased to nine due to popular demand, and most performances were sold out.

In 2001 a new production of Dead Man Walking was commissioned by seven American opera companies: Opera Pacific, Cincinnati Opera, New York City Opera, Austin Lyric Opera, Michigan Opera Theater, Pittsburgh Opera and Baltimore Opera. Directed by Leonard Foglia and designed by Michael McGarty, the production features costumes by Jess Goldstein and lighting by Brian Nason.


A list of companies who have performed or scheduled future performances of the opera follows:

  1. San Francisco Opera (2000) — World Premiere
  2. Opera Pacific (2002) — New Production
  3. Cincinnati Opera (2002)
  4. New York City Opera (2002)
  5. Austin Lyric Opera (2003)
  6. Michigan Opera Theater (2003)
  7. State Opera of South Australia (2003) — First International Production
  8. Pittsburgh Opera (2004) — Live Broadcast on National Public Radio
  9. Calgary Opera (2006) — New Production. Canadian Premiere.
  10. Baltimore Opera (2006)
  11. Dresden Semperoper (2006) — New Production. European Premiere.
  12. Malmö Opera (2006-2007) — New Production. Scandinavian Premiere.
  13. Sydney, Australia (2007) — New Production
  14. Dresden Semperoper  (2007) — Revival.
  15. Vienna Klangbogen Festival (2007)
  16. Hagen, Germany (2007-2008)
  17. Dublin, Ireland (2007) — New Production
  18. University of Colorado at Boulder (2007) — New Production. First complete university production.
  19. University of Nebraska in Lincoln. (2008) —  New Production. Directed by William Shomos and conducted by Tyler White.
  20. Malmö Opera (2009) (revival)
  21. Fort Worth Opera (2009)
  22. Dresden SemperOper (2009) (revival)
  23. Royal Danish Theatre in Copenhagen (2009)
  24. Cape Town Opera, South Africa (2009)
  25. Houston Grand Opera (2011) – 10th Anniversary Production
  26. Union Avenue Opera, St. Louis (2011)
  27. Tulsa Opera (2012)
  28. Dresden SemperOper (2012) – revival
  29. Fayetteville Opera (2013)
  30. Opéra de Montréal (2013)
  31. Boston Opera Collaborative (2013)
  32. Eugene Opera (2013)
  33. The Modern American Music Project (2013)
  34. Staatstheater Schwerin, Germany (2014)
  35. Madison Opera (2014)
  36. Central City Opera (2014)
  37. DePaul University (2014)
  38. Des Moines Metro Opera (2014)
  39. Madison Opera (2014)
  40. University of Michigan (2014)
  41. Opera Parallele (2015)
  42. Northwestern University (2015)
  43. Opera NUOVA (2015)
  44. Dayton Opera (2015)
  45. Indiana University Opera Theater (2015)
  46. New Orleans Opera (2016)
  47. Shreveport Opera (2016)
  48. Townsend Opera (2016)
  49. Fresno Opera (2016)
  50. Lyric Opera of Kansas City (2017)
  51. Vancouver Opera (2017)
  52. Washington National Opera (2017)
  53. Pensacola Opera (2017)
  54. Miami Music Festival (2017)
  55. Opera on the Avalon (2017)
  56. Boston Conservatory (2017)
  57. Kentucky Opera (2017)
  58. BBC Symphony/Barbican Center (2018)
  59. Minnesota Opera (2018)
  60. Teatro Real Madrid (2018)
  61. Utah Opera (2018)
  62. Theater Erfurt (2019)
  63. Oldenburgisches Staatstheater (2019)
  64. Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (2019)


There are two recordings of Dead Man Walking:


There are two versions of the orchestration to Dead Man Walking.

Original (full) Orchestration

3 Flutes (3rd doubling Alto Flute and Piccolo)
2 Oboes
English Horn
2 Clarinets in Bb
Bass Clarinet
3 Bassoons (3rd doubling Contrabassoon)

4 Horns in F
3 Trumpets in C
2 Trombones
Bass Trombone

Percussion (2 players)


Reduced Orchestration

2 Flutes (2nd doubling on Alto Flute and Piccolo)
2 Oboes (2nd doubling English Horn)
2 Clarinets in Bb(2nd doubling Bass Clarinet)
2 Bassoons (2nd doubling on Contrabassoon)

2 Horns in F
2 Trumpets in C
Bass Trombone

Synthesizer (harp and piano sounds only)
2 Percussion



For theatrical performances, there are two components to licensing Dead Man Walking. Grand Rights (theatrical rights) are licensed by:

Funsten and Franzen

Jennifer Hughes

Bill Holab Music handles rentals and sales of the musical materials. You can request a quote here.

Scores can be purchased here.