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And Then One Night - The Making of Dead Man Walking
Creative Process Stories Behind Capital Punishment Sister Helen Prejean About the Program
Program Description Producer's Journey TV and Web Credits Program Transcript
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Program Description
And Then One Night: The Making of Dead Man Walking

It was an artistic experience almost a decade in the making. In the fall of 2000, the San Francisco Opera unveiled a production unlike any other: a bold, contemporary American opera, Dead Man Walking, based on Sister Helen Prejean's book of the same name. Even by the standards of the San Francisco Opera, a world-class organization with a history of taking risks, this was an unprecedented move. Not only was this opera taking on a highly charged political topic, but the writer, composer and director commissioned to work on it had never worked on a major opera before. It added up to an exciting, daring undertaking — but one whose results were uncertain.

The opera, Dead Man Walking embodies 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.

And Then One Night: The Making of Dead Man Walking addresses the capital punishment as no news report can, demonstrating the added emotional dimension that music and stories can bring to an important public debate. We hear from the artists who speak their piece about the mounting of this unique project and from real-life families who have lived through the tragedies of violent crime and capital punishment.

"I felt it critical to include real people who were from families of both victims and death row inmates," noted Linda Schaller, director and producer of the documentary. "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."

For almost a year, KQED and director/producer Linda Schaller were with San Francisco Opera to capture the collaborative processes that culminated in the world premiere of this provocative opera. The result, which features the narration of renowned Hollywood actress Angela Bassett, is a one-hour documentary complemented by a unique Web-only experience that captures the collaborative process and complex issues behind the work.


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