Holy Trinity students to perform first chamber opera


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Photo by Carl Kotala">

The Holy Trinity Episcopal Academy will perform the chamber opera "Evangeline" on Nov. 7. Cast members include Tim Yinqi Ma, Mason Sands, Anikka Schleismann and Kathryn Wacaster. Photo by Carl Kotala

It’s a performance the world has never seen before … and it takes place at Holy Trinity Episcopal Academy.

Students will perform the chamber opera “Evangeline” at 5 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 7 at the Scott Center for Worship and Performing Arts.

Written by Vermont-based composer Gwyneth Walker, “Evangeline” has been performed only twice in the world. This performance, however, will mark the first time it has been done with a 17-member cast that includes four soloists and a chorus.

In fact, after a series of email exchanges, Walker even sent Holy Trinity chorus and orchestra director Lorie Wacaster new music to go with the arrangement.

“It was originally written for just four soloists, and I explained to her that I had a chorus I wanted to involve in some of the parts that were for the four soloists,” Wacaster said. “She was asking me which parts we were doing, and I told her, and (the next day) she sent me a whole page re-written just for the chorus. That’s amazing.”

The performance will mark the first time Holy Trinity students have performed a chamber opera, an opera written to be performed with a musical ensemble rather than a full orchestra.

As described in a school press release, “Evangeline” tells the story of the expulsion of the Acadian people from Nova Scotia, Canada, from 1755 to 1764. Forced into exile by the British, the Acadians were separated from one another and traveled the United States and abroad looking for their loved ones. Many of them settled in southern Louisiana and later became known as “Cajuns.”

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote a poem, “Evangeline,” documenting these events in 1847. While the characters in the poem are fictitious, their story represents a very real and tragic series of events.

The opera focuses on a young Acadian woman named Evangeline, who is betrothed to her childhood sweetheart, Gabriel. However, before they can marry, British soldiers separate them and they travel the U.S. searching for each other.

The cast includes Anikka Schleismann (soprano) as Evangeline, Mason Sands (tenor) as Gabriel, Kathryn Wacaster (mezzo) as Benadicta, Tim Yingi Ma (baritone) as Father Felician, Cindy Hall as The Fiddler and an ensemble of advanced chorus singers.

“The music is probably the most enjoyable part,” Schleismann, a junior, said. “The story is very moving. The whole thing is just a joy to create.”

Sands, a senior, believes the audience will be captivated by the opera’s moving story.

“I really love how emotional and how true the feelings that are expressed in this opera are, and I love how both the music and acting go hand-in-hand to express this,” he said.

“The music is gorgeous, but what’s more important than that is that the audience, I feel, will directly empathize with the characters on stage. … I feel so grateful to be performing such a composition.”

In another email exchange between Walker and Wacaster, the composer expressed her appreciation as well.

“I am delighted that your students are presenting ‘Evangeline’ this fall,” Walker wrote. “I am quite impressed with your efforts, for I had not thought of high school students performing this opera.”

Tickets will be available the day of the performance. Doors open at 4 p.m. Cost for adults is $5; no charge for students. Seating is available on a first-come, first-served basis.

Schleismann, who has never played the lead on stage before, was asked if she was nervous.

“Yeah, I am nervous,” she said. “But more than that, I’m determined to succeed, to just enjoy the performance.”