|And Then One Night: The Making of Dead Man Walking: Press Release|
PBS Goes Behind the Curtain of San Francisco Opera's "Dead Man Walking" and the Controversy of the Death Penalty in America Today in New Documentary
THE MAKING OF "DEAD MAN WALKING" and Capital Punishment Debate Are Told in Parallel Stories That Combine Art, Life and Death
You don't know what it's like to bear a child, raise him, tend to his ills /
San Francisco, CaliforniaIn March 1998, San Francisco Opera unveiled its plans in New York for a bold production of contemporary American opera, Dead Man Walking, based on the book by Sister Helen Prejean. Lotfi Mansouri–then-general director of the company–made the announcement with Sister Helen Prejean, Terrence McNally and Jake Heggie in attendance, 18 months before the lights dimmed on the stage of the War Memorial Opera House for the world premiere. Many preparations needed to be made in mounting this colossal work with a libretto penned by famed playwright Terrence McNally. Auditions were held and roles cast. Scripts and blocking were written and re-written. Rehearsals upon rehearsals were staged and attended. Sets were constructed. Lighting was plotted and adjusted. Perhaps most importantly, songs, libretto, instruments, musicians and actors were creatively integrated.
...kiss his cuts and bruises, and pray to God he turns out right.
You don't know what it's like to see your baby / Grow up into a beautiful young woman.
And then one night...
Terrence McNally's libretto from Dead Man Walking
But underneath the surface of a normal theatrical and operatic production, there was a cloud of uncertainty. The arts world had a sharp eye on how San Francisco Opera would produce this new and controversial work. Additionally, the production was led by a composer (Jake Heggie), writer (Terrence McNally) and director (Joe Mantello) whose first experience with creating an opera was Dead Man Walking. It was a huge risk for San Francisco Operaand KQED San Francisco, who could't predict how successful Dead Man Walking would be.
Throughout the year, director/producer Linda Schaller was with San Francisco Opera to capture the collaborative processes that culminated in the world premiere of this provocative performance of Dead Man Walking. Featuring the narration of renowned Hollywood actress Angela Bassett, the result is a one-hour documentary entitled And Then One Night: The Making of 'Dead Man Walking', which will be broadcast nationwide on PBS on Monday, January 14 at 10 p.m.
Across America, there is a renewed public interest in capital punishment. The various forms of Dead Man Walking (book, film and now, opera), the 2000 Presidential elections and the multiple high-profile federal executions have all catapulted the issue to the forefront of the collective American conscience. Is capital punishment morally right? Is it biased in regards to people of color and class status? And Then One Night addresses the topic as no news report has, demonstrating the added emotional dimension that music and stories can bring to an important public debate. The documentary incorporates the opinions of both sides of this controversial issue to illustrate its relevance to the American public.
"There's a direct track from being poor in this country, and then going to prison and going to death row," said Sister Helen Prejean.
And Then One Night includes emotional interviews with dynamic personalities, such as Dead Man Walking principals Frederica von Stade, Susan Graham and John Packard; author and advocate Sister Helen Prejean; librettist Terrence McNally; composer Jake Heggie; conductor Patrick Summers; set designer Michael Yeargan; costume designer Sam Fleming; former general director of San Francisco Opera Lotfi Mansouri; president of Opera America, Marc Scorca; assistant district attorney of Alameda County James Anderson; actor Mike Farrell of Death Penalty Focus; and representatives from both sides of the capital punishment issue, including family members that have been directly affected by the death penalty.
"Even from the start of this project, I felt it critical to include real people who were from families of both victims and death row inmates," noted Schaller. "But it wasn't until we began editing the footage that I felt the full emotional impact of how their opinions and pain so completely mirrored the music and the characters in the opera. The people and their situations aren't abstract—the death penalty debate shouldn't be either."
Dead Man Walking is an opera that embodies some of the social, spiritual and political challenges of the day, using a modern American tragedy of loss and violence, forgiveness and redemption, as the basis for a uniquely American opera. "Art helps us explore alternatives [to capital punishment], to make new choices and brings us to that deeper place to do it," noted Prejean.
At a time when observers are paying close attention to the development of an emerging canon of contemporary opera, the documentary helps the broader public and experts alike appreciate the complex process of creating a new opera, fine tuning its orchestration and mounting it for its premiere performance.
And Then One Night: The Making of Dead Man Walking also has a Web presence at pbs.org/onenight that explores capital punishment and the emotions conjured by this controversial topic. This media-rich site draws from the journals of the opera performers, feature an interview with Sister Helen Prejean and provide classroom activities for discussing what happens when art takes on a social issue.
Production of And Then One Night: The Making of Dead Man Walking is made possible by Mr. and Mrs. William R. Hewlett, Toni and Arthur Rock, the KQED Campaign for the Future Program Venture Fund and PBS. And Then One Night: The Making of Dead Man Walking is produced and directed by Linda Schaller. June Ouellette is the associate producer, Sharon Wood is the writer and Joe De Francesco is the editor. The executive producer for KQED is Jack Walsh. Executives-in-charge of production for KQED are Tamara Gould and Danny McGuire. Kate Gaitley is the executive producer for San Francisco Opera.
KQED operates KQED Public Television 9, the nation's most-watched public television station (in prime-time), and Digital Television 30, Northern California's only public television digital signal; KQED Public Radio 88.5 FM, the most listened-to public radio station in the nation; the KQED Education Network, which brings the impact of KQED to thousands of teachers, students, parents and media professionals through workshops, seminars and resources; and kqed.org, which harnesses the power of the Internet to bring KQED to communities across the Web.
San Francisco Opera is the second-largest opera company in the United States and the largest performing arts organization on the West Coast. Founded in 1923, the company is acclaimed for its international seasons presenting the world’s finest operatic artists, as well as for the most comprehensive array of training programs and performance opportunities for young artists through its training arm, the San Francisco Opera Center. In 1992 San Francisco Opera introduced "Pacific Visions," an ambitious program designed to maintain the vitality of the opera repertoire through new opera commissions and the presentation of rarely performed and unusual works. Dead Man Walking is the fourth new commission, succeeding "A Streetcar Named Desire" (Previn/Littell), "Harvey Milk" (Wallace/Korie) and "The Dangerous Liaisons" (Susa/Littell). Several San Francisco Opera productions have been telecast nationally on "Great Performances" and recorded to disc and video, including "A Streetcar Named Desire," which won the prestigious Grand Prix du Disque and was nominated for an Emmy Award. The company has a long-standing commitment to arts education and community programs, currently serving 40,000 students in over 140 schools from San Jose to Napa, as well as numerous senior centers, hospitals, community centers and free public concerts. Additionally, the company provides an array of extensive informational, entertaining and educational interactive programs through its Web site, sfopera.com.