Composer Jake Heggie was only 36 when he was commissioned by the San Francisco Opera to write his first opera, Dead Man Walking, based on the book by Sister Helen Prejean about her wrenching experience with a Louisiana death-row inmate. The work premiered in 2000, and the fact that it has become one of our most acclaimed contemporary compositions is a testament to Heggie’s insight, both musical and psychological. “Dead Man Walking is about human beings on an amazing journey, and people from ordinary circumstances thrown into extraordinary circumstances,” he explains. “My responsibility was to find the music that that person would sing. Not the music that I want them to sing, but the music that they would sing.” This weekend, Heggie and Sister Prejean appear in person at a rare performance of scenes from the opera. The cast includes local luminaries Anita Protich, Eli Villanueva, Suzanna Guzman and Cedric Berry, among others, with Heggie narrating and accompanying at the piano. After the performance, Sister Prejean will speak on the topic “Dead Man Walking: The Journey Continues.” Pasadena Presbyterian Church, 585 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena; Sat., Feb. 24, 7:30 p.m.; free. (626) 793-2191 or www.ppc.net.
—Mary Beth Crain