We see their bond build somewhat, and thanks to DiDonato, McKinny and van Hove, it’s touching as De Rocher’s compassionate mother and the victims’ angry parents put some outside pressure on the central couple.
But there is no real urgency to the outcome, no sense of deep mutual revelation or cat-and-mouse surprise or crisis of faith, even as the clock ticks and the constraints of incarceration — the same elements that, say, “The Silence of Die.” Lambs” is exciting and perversely romantic.
Instead, there’s just a steady, swelling tenderness that Heggie’s cloudless lyricism lends itself to. He invented a sweet hymn that became Sister Helen’s leitmotif. For a stirring ensemble that brings her together with Joseph’s mother and the victims’ parents, he draws on clear neo-baroque chords, richly arranged to balance emotion and clarity. Even though Heggie’s scene transitions and climaxes tend to drone, he gives the voices plenty of room to develop.
DiDonato, the highlight of “The Hours” at the Met last season as the solemnly gentle Virginia Woolf, pulls it off here with the same magnetic self-possession, although Sister Helen’s music – unlike Woolf’s – features her slender, eloquent mezzo-soprano in A thin, tight high register brings a varied state.
Her diction is as flawless as McKinny’s – and his warm, powerful bass-baritone voice makes De Rocher’s humanity clear from the start. In a well-cast and outstanding supporting cast, mezzo-soprano Susan Graham, who originated the role of Sister Helen, returns as the beautifully dignified Mrs. De Rocher. (It added to the shock that Frederica von Stade, who played the mother in 2000, was in the audience on Tuesday, as was real-life sister Helen, now 84.)