Dead Man Walking: Sister Helen Prejean, Joyce DiDonato, Ryan McKinny, and Shamil Idriss

Tue. Sep 19, 2023 7:00pm - 8:00pm EDT
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An evening of performance and conversation explores the Met Opera's highly anticipated premiere of Dead Man Walking, as well as the memoir, and the woman, that inspired it.

In-person registration for this event has sold out, but livestream tickets are still available. A limited number of standby tickets will be available on the night of the event.

In September the Met Opera will premiere a haunting new Ivo van Hove production of Dead Man Walking, which is the most widely performed new opera of the past two decades. Based on Sister Helen Prejean's groundbreaking memoir of the same name, it is the story of Prejean's fight for the soul of a condemned murderer. At the Library, two of the show's stars, mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato (Sister Helen) and bass-baritone Ryan McKinny (Joseph de Rocher), will deliver a short performance from the opera and then join Sister Helen Prejean in conversation to discuss the new production and Prejean's unswerving commitment to fighting the death penalty. They'll speak with Shamil Idriss, the Chief Executive Officer of Search for Common Ground.

Presented in partnership with the Metropolitan Opera and Search for Common Ground.

To join the event in person | Doors will open 45 minutes before the program begins. Purchase a drink from the NYPL bar and a snack from Amy's Bread while you mingle before the event! For LIVE from NYPL events, we generally overbook to ensure a full house. Please arrive early to avoid disappointment; we will do our best to accommodate everyone. Booked seats that have not been claimed will be released shortly before start time, and seats may become available then. A standby line will form 45 minutes before the program.

To join the livestream | A livestream of this event will be available on the NYPL event page. To receive an email reminder shortly in advance of the event, please be sure to register! If you encounter any issues, please join us on NYPL's YouTube channel.


Sister Helen Prejean headshotSister Helen Prejean is known around the world for her tireless work against the death penalty. She has been instrumental in sparking national dialogue on capital punishment and in shaping the Catholic Church's newly vigorous opposition to all executions. In 1982, Sister Helen started corresponding with Patrick Sonnier, sentenced to die in the electric chair of Louisiana's Angola State Prison for the murder of two teenagers. Sonnier asked her to become his spiritual advisor and she accepted. In 1984, Elmo Patrick Sonnier was put to death in the electric chair. Sister Helen was there to witness his execution. In the following months, she became spiritual advisor to another death row inmate, Robert Lee Willie, who soon met the same fate as Sonnier. After witnessing this second execution, Sister Helen realized that this lethal act, performed at midnight, would remain hidden unless she spoke up about it. She came together with others to hold execution vigils and to march to draw attention to the issue. She founded a support group for victims' family members, called Survive. And she sat down and wrote a book, Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty in the United States. Dead Man Walking ignited a national debate on capital punishment, and it inspired an Academy Award-winning movie, a play and an opera. A quarter of a century later and with capital punishment still practiced in 31 states, Sister Helen divides her time between campaigning against the death penalty, counseling individual death row prisoners, and working with murder victims' family members. 

Joyce DiDonato headshotKansas-born mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato is one of opera's most popular and versatile artists, having sung to great acclaim the world over and earning the 2018 Olivier Award winner for Outstanding Achievement in Opera. She has been nominated for ten Grammy Awards, winning for her solo albums Diva, Divo in 2012, Joyce and Tony in 2016, and Songplay in 2020. She was the 2007 recipient of the Metropolitan Opera's Beverly Sills Artist Award and made her Met debut in 2005 as Cherubino in Le Nozze di Figaro. Since then, she has appeared in more than 100 Met performances of 13 roles, including Sesto in La Clemenza di Tito, Adalgisa in Norma, Elena in La Donna del Lago, Sycorax in The Enchanted Island, Isolier in Le Comte Ory, and the title roles of AgrippinaCendrillonLa Cenerentola, and Maria Stuarda. To date, she has appeared in four Met premieres, seven new productions, and nine Live in HD cinema transmissions. She returns during the 2022–2023 season to appear as Virginia Woolf in the world-premiere staging of Kevin Puts's The Hours. In recent seasons, she has also appeared at the Vienna State Opera, Bavarian State Opera, Deutsche Oper Berlin, La Scala, Paris Opera, Teatro Real de Madrid, and Covent Garden, as well as at the Salzburg and Baden-Baden Festivals, and she has performed in concert with many of the world's leading orchestras and ensembles.

Ryan McKinny headshotAmerican bass-baritone Ryan McKinny is a frequent guest artist at Los Angeles Opera, where he has sung Scarpia in Tosca, Count Alamaviva in Le nozze di Figaro, Don Basilio in Il barbiere di Siviglia, and Stanley Kowalski in Previn's A Streetcar Named Desire, and at Santa Fe Opera, where he has appeared as Jochanaan in Salome and Oppenheimer in Doctor Atomic. An alumnus of the Houston Grand Opera Studio, Mr. McKinny has made numerous important role debuts on the HGO mainstage, including the title roles of Don Giovanni and Rigoletto. McKinny is a long-time artistic collaborator of composer John Adams and director Peter Sellars, having appeared in Sellars productions of Adams' Girls of the Golden West (Los Angeles Opera, San Francisco Opera, Dutch National Opera) and Doctor Atomic (Santa Fe Opera), in addition to Adams' Nixon in China with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. He has also performed under Sellars' direction in Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex (Sydney Festival), Tristan und Isolde (Canadian Opera Company), and Shostakovich's Orango with the London Philharmonia and Los Angeles Philharmonic. The first recipient of Operalia's Birgit Nilsson Prize for singing Wagner, McKinny has also received the prestigious George London-Kirsten Flagstad Award. McKinny represented the United States in the 2007 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition, where he was a finalist in the Rosenblatt Recital Song Prize, and he was a Grand Finalist in the 2007 Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, captured in the film The Audition.

Shamil Idriss headshotShamil Idriss is CEO of Search for Common Ground (Search), an international non-profit organization whose mission is to transform the way the world deals with conflict, away from adversarial approaches toward cooperative solutions. With 850+ staff working in 32 countries, Search is the largest dedicated peacebuilding organization and was nominated by the Quakers for the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize.  Speaking of Search's impact in 2016, then-U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said “your work in Burundi helped to prevent genocide...and during the Iran [nuclear] talks, the fresh ideas you provided helped us to achieve a breakthrough.” Prior to his current role, Idriss was the CEO of Soliya where he led a public-private sector coalition to establish the field of virtual exchanges. In 2005, he was appointed by then-UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan as Deputy Director of the UN Alliance of Civilizations. He served on the Steering Committee of the World Economic Forum's Council of 100 Leaders and is a member of the World Economic Forum's Young Global Leaders and recipient of the 2015 Open Society Foundation New Executive Award.


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In-Person | CART (Communication Access Real-Time Translation) captioning service will be provided. Assistive listening devices and/or hearing loops are available at the venue. You can request a free ASL (American Sign Language) interpretation by emailing your request at least two weeks in advance of the event: email or use this Gmail template. This venue is fully accessible to wheelchairs. 

Livestream | Captions and a transcript will be provided. Media used over the course of the conversation will be accompanied by alt text and/or audio description. You can request a free ASL (American Sign Language) interpretation by emailing your request at least two weeks in advance of the event: email or use this Gmail template.



For questions and inquiries, please email or use this Gmail template.

Please submit all press inquiries to Sara Beth Joren at least 48 hours before the event: email or use this Gmail template.

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LIVE from NYPL is made possible by the continuing generosity of Celeste Bartos, Mahnaz Ispahani Bartos and Adam Bartos, the Margaret and Herman Sokol Public Education Endowment Fund, and the support of Library patrons and friends.

Sister Helen Prejean © Scott Langley
Joyce DiDonato © Simon Pauly
Ryan McKinny © Jiyang Chen
Courtesy Shamil Idriss

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Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, Celeste Bartos Forum 476 5th Ave
New York, NY 10018