Friday, February 20, 2015

Opera Parallèle: An Evening with Sister Helen Prejean

Last month, as part of the run-up to Opera Parallèle's performances of Dead Man Walking this weekend, Temple Emanu-El hosted an evening of discussion & music with Sister Helen Prejean & composer Jake Heggie. The event did a good job priming audiences for the themes of the opera.

Mezzo Frederica von Stade set a solemn, introspective mood with a song by Mr. Heggie on a text by Sister Prejean, accompanied by Mr. Heggie on the piano & flutist Julie McKenzie. In the 1st discussion panel, lawyer Elisabeth Semel brought up the link between race & the death penalty, specifically regarding the race of the victim versus the perpetrator. Jeanne Woodford, a former warden of San Quentin who oversaw 4 executions, questioned the effectiveness of the death penalty & brought up the high cost of pursing death penalty cases.

Sister Prejean might have an unassuming appearance, but she is an eloquent speaker & a determined personality. She is very supportive of art & literature taking social issues to the public & immediately welcomed the idea of turning Dead Man Walking into an opera. We heard that in her 1st phone call to Jake Heggie, she told the composer, "I don't know boo-skat about opera!" She also wanted to be sure that he didn't write "any of that twelve-tone stuff." She sees the opera ultimately as a story of redemption.

The event had a large turn out, & the audience was especially still & quiet for the "Forgiveness" duet from the opera performed by sopranos Kristin Clayton & Nicolle Foland, who both communicated the text clearly. We also heard mezzo Catherine Cook's earthy, grounded sound in another short excerpt. The 90-minute event concluded with Cantor Roslyn Barak performing Ravel's "Kaddish." She sang with control & colored her voice nicely. I wished there could have been more music.

§ Dead Man Walking: Art & Social Justice

Welcome: Cantor Roslyn Barak

Heggie/Prejean "Primary Colors" from The Deepest Desire
Frederica von Stade, Mezzo-Soprano; Julie Mckenzie, flute,
Jake Heggie, piano

PART ONE: Dead Man Walking and the death penalty
Speakers: Sister Helen Prejean, Elisabeth Semel, Jeanne Woodford

Heggie/McNally "Forgiveness" from Dead Man Walking
Kristin Clayton, Nicolle Foland, Sopranos; Jake Heggie, piano

PART TWO: Dead Man Walking and the arts community
Moderated by Brian Staufenbiel
Sister Helen Prejean, Frederica Von Stade, Catherine Cook, Jake Heggie, Nicole Paiement

Heggie/McNally "Don't Say A Word" from Dead Man Walking
Catherine Cook, mezzo-soprano; Jake Heggie, piano

PART THREE: Questions from the Audience
Moderated by Brian Staufenbiel

Closing: Rabbi Jonathan Singer
Ravel "Kaddish" from Deux Melodies Hebraiques
Roslyn Barak, soprano; Jake Heggie, piano

Temple Emmanu-El, San Francisco
7 p.m. January 21, 2015

1 comment:

dudleysharp said...

Sister Helen Prejean: A Critical Review

The parents of rape/torture/murder victim Loretta Bourque, a "Dead Man Walking" Case

" . . .makes you realize the Dead Man Walking truly belongs on the shelf in the library in the Fiction category."

"Being devout Catholics, 'the norm' would be to look to the church for support and healing. Again, this need for spiritual stability was stolen by Sister Prejean." (1)

Case Detective Michael Vernado, in the rape/torture/murder of Faith Hathaway, a Dead Man Walking Case

"I wouldn't have had as much trouble with (Prejean's) views if she would have told the truth . . ." " . . . (Sr. Prejean) based her book on what was in I guess a defense file and what (rapist/murderer) Robert Willie telling her." (1)

" . . . she's trying to mislead people in the book. And that's something that she's going have to work out with herself." "(Sr. Prejean's) certainly not after giving anybody spiritual advice to try to save their soul." (1)

Sr. Prejean: “It is abundantly clear that the Bible depicts murder as a capital crime for which death is considered the appropriate punishment, and one is hard pressed to find a biblical ‘proof text’ in either the Hebrew Testament or the New Testament which unequivocally refutes this. Even Jesus’ admonition ‘Let him without sin cast the first stone,’ when He was asked the appropriate punishment for an adulteress (John 8:7) – the Mosaic Law prescribed death – should be read in its proper context. This passage is an ‘entrapment’ story, which sought to show Jesus’ wisdom in besting His adversaries. It is not an ethical pronouncement about capital punishment .” Dead Man Walking (2)



Book Review: "Sister Prejean's Lack of Credibility: Review of "The Death of Innocents", by Thomas M. McKenna (New Oxford Review, 12/05).

"The book is moreover riddled with factual errors and misrepresentations."

"Williams had confessed to repeatedly stabbing his victim, Sonya Knippers."

"This DNA test was performed by an independent lab in Dallas, which concluded that there was a one in nearly four billion chance that the blood could have been someone's other than Williams's."

" . . . despite repeated claims that (Prejean) cares about crime victims, implies that the victim's husband was a more likely suspect but was overlooked because the authorities wanted to convict a black man."

" . . . a Federal District Court . . . stated that 'the evidence against Williams was overwhelming.' " "The same court also did "not find any evidence of racial bias specific to this case."


Did she consider the mental suffering of a parent who lost their innocent daughter to a rape/murder or, possibly, the mental (and physical) suffering of that girl, as she was being raped and murdered?

Of course the sister considered it and she made her choice - the murderer.


"(Sr. Prejean) remains convinced that if people could see the brutality of killing a human being, they might reconsider their support for the death penalty." (3)

REPLY: See the pattern? Sr. Prejean is talking of the peaceful execution of the guilty murderers, not the incredible brutality of the murder of the innocent victims. That is Sr, Prejean's norm (3).

1) Sister Helen Prejean: A Critical Review

2) Sister Helen Prejean & the death penalty: A Critical Review

3) Sr. Helen Prejean: "Botched" Nun