We witness their bond build a bit, and thanks to DiDonato, McKinny and van Hove, it’s affecting, with De Rocher’s sympathetic mother and the victims’ furious parents adding some external pressure to the central pair.
But there’s no real urgency to the outcome, no sense of deep mutual revelation or cat-and-mouse surprise or crisis of faith, even with the clock ticking and the constraints of imprisonment — the same elements that gave, say, “The Silence of the Lambs” its thrilling, perversely romantic stakes.
Instead, there is merely steady, swelling tenderness, for which Heggie’s cloudless lyricism is apt. He’s invented a sweet hymn that becomes Sister Helen’s leitmotif. For a sweeping ensemble bringing her together with Joseph’s mother and the parents of the victims, he turns to clean neo-Baroque chords, richly arranged, to balance emotion and clarity. If Heggie’s scene transitions and climaxes tend to blare, he gives voices ample room to take flight.
DiDonato, the highlight of “The Hours” at the Met last season as a solemnly mellow-toned Virginia Woolf, manages the same magnetic self-possession here, though Sister Helen’s music — unlike Woolf’s — pushes her lean, eloquent mezzo-soprano into a thin, tight high register.
Her diction is pristine, as is McKinny’s — and his warmly robust bass-baritone voice makes De Rocher’s humanity evident from the start. Among a crowded and excellent supporting cast, the mezzo-soprano Susan Graham, who originated the role of Sister Helen, has returned as a beautifully dignified Mrs. De Rocher. (It added to the poignancy that Frederica von Stade, who played the mother in 2000, was in the audience on Tuesday, as was the real Sister Helen, now 84.)