STJ Alum pens opera based on Pilate

Amidst the quietness that surrounded the Queens campus during spring break, a unique, musical event took place at the St. Thomas More Church on Saturday, March 6. The Long Island Masterworks chorus performed the opera, written by Bernard D. Kennedy, a 1954 alumnus of St. John’s who composes in his free time.

The opera, Pilate, depicts the execution sentence of Jesus by Pontius Pilate. The Libretto includes emotional monologues from Pilate and his wife Claudia.

Kennedy said he initially intended to focus primarily on Jesus, but after beginning the composition, he shifted the focus to Pilate.

“I wanted to write something about Jesus’ suffering,” Kennedy said. “The thrust became more on Pilate, though, and his relationship with Jesus.”

Kennedy began writing operas in his early 70s, driven by his love of classical music. He has composed several other operas such as The Nativity, Thomas Becket, and Mass of the Composers.

“I always love classical music, and that lead me to appreciate opera,” Kennedy said. “The melodies I heard and loved lead me to think, well, I could put words to these.”

Pontius Pilate, played by Gustavo Ahualli, sang ominously from the altar of the church, transforming it into a living depiction of the condemning relationship between Pilate and Jesus. Ahualli was a freelance opera singer in Argentina before joining the Long Island Masterworks Chorus.

The actor noted the beauty of the St. Thomas More Church, and praised Kennedy’s composition.

“He brings pieces from different operas mixed together and it makes a lot of sense. That’s a true talent,” Ahualli said. “The setting of the church for this opera was inspiring. It set the mood perfectly; it couldn’t have been better.”

Lisa Lockhart played the part of Claudia, Pilate’s wife. She also performed in the first presentation of Pilate two years ago.

“The performance was better this time,” Lockhart said. “This building is breathtakingly beautiful. It was the perfect setting for this opera, from the cross to the mosaics to the altar, it was all absolutely gorgeous.”

Chorus member Joanne Llano also agreed that the church was the perfect setting for Pilate.

“We perform in churches a lot,” Llano said.

“To have an audience in the round was different. The acoustics were very good.”

The performance was very intimate, with most audience members sitting less than 20 feet from the singers. Special invitations to the opera were sent out by Father Harrington to 300 of the University’s top donors.

Kathleen Bedell, whose daughter was a chorus member in Pilate, said she is a fan of Kennedy’s compositions.

“It was marvelous,” Bedell said. “Of all the ones I’ve seen of his, I like this one the best.”

At the conclusion of the opera, guests were served hors d’oeuvres and champagne in the entrance hall of the church. Singers and audience members chatted about the beauty of the composition, as well as the successful execution of having an opera in St. Thomas More Church.

Kennedy said he has high aspirations for future compositions.

“I find the creative process extremely exciting and fulfilling and hope to continue as long as God gives me strength to do so,” he said in the Libretto.