Acclaim| Chicago Classical Review
Dead Man Walking in Chicago
“Ryan McKinny made a knockout Lyric Opera debut as the condemned murderer, Joseph De Rocher. The American singer didn’t set a shackled foot wrong as the embittered, heavily tattooed convict– distrustful of Sister Helen’s motivations, cynical about his imminent execution and refusing to admit his guilt. McKinny is a first-rate actor, wholly inhabiting the hard-as-nails-convict. Yet his pained expressions reveal the conflicted humanity of this brutal yet tormented man, building into Joseph’s devastating emotional breakdown when he finally confesses his guilt to Sister Helen.”
“Bass-baritone Ryan McKinny, making his Lyric debut, proves at once menacing and charismatic as De Rocher; the hard surface McKinny shows at first meeting Prejean slowly cracking over time, an acting tour de force buttressed by a warmly inviting voice.”
“McKinny’s De Rocher is equally multi-layered. Lean, muscular, and slouching, his hands and feet in chains, he moves with the big-shot swagger of a small-town bully. Drawling and snarling, he deploys his Southern accent like an impeccably precise weapon. In a bluesy ballad recalling a romantic tryst down by the river, his singing is caressing and languorous. After hearing that his execution date has been set, he explodes into an extended aria. His deep voice rattles the heavens in a chilling outburst of bone-shaking fear and towering outrage.”
“In his debut with the role and at Lyric Opera, bass-baritone Ryan McKinny stuns as death row convict Joseph De Rocher. Vacillating between cynical detachment and raw fear, McKinny’s De Rocher never feels trite or straightforward. When we first meet De Rocher, he’s selfish and brusk, having invited Sister Helen to Angola with the goal of getting a sympathetic nun to help get his death sentence commuted.
As the opera unfolds and his fate is irrevocably sealed, our original estimation of De Rocher is challenged – he still won’t admit his guilt but we also start to see his shame, his frustrated regret, and his human need for connection. It is a testament both to the dramatic arc of the libretto and McKinny’s nuanced performance that by the end of the work, De Rocher’s deathbed confession and final line, (“I love you”), feel neither predictable nor saccharine.”