Stockton Oratorio Society performs Handel’s “Messiah” at the Borgata

On Sunday, December 4th, the Stockton Oratorio Society—in junction with Stockton Chorale, University Chorus, Holy Spirit High School Choir, Charter Tech High School Choir, ChildrenSong Choir of New Jersey, the Beachwood Children’s Choir, and the Stockton Chamber Orchestra—performed excerpts from George Frideric Handel’s “Messiah” at its bi-annual Messiah Gala, held at the Borgata Event Center in Atlantic City. Written in 1741, this oratorio, which highlights the life and death of Jesus Christ, took Handel only 24 days to complete.

This year’s performance featured nearly 200 singers from throughout the region and was dedicated to President Harvey Kesselman and First Lady Lynne Kesselman, following the announcement of the former’s retirement at the end of the academic year. Kesselman described this year’s Messiah Gala as a “bittersweet” occasion for him, as it was the last of which he would preside over as President of the university. The First Lady was presented with flowers at the beginning of the performance.

Members of Stockton Chorale gather backstage prior to the performance. Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Myers.

The concert was preceded by speeches from President Kesselman, Dean of the School of Arts and Humanities Dr. Ian Marshall, and Chief Operating Officer of the Atlantic City Campus Dr. Brian K. Jackson, who also served as the master of ceremonies. During each of their speeches, all parties expressed their appreciation for the Messiah Gala and what it represents as a long-standing tradition within Stockton University’s performing arts program. Provost Leamor Kahanov was also recognized for her efforts in supporting the 2022 Messiah Gala.

The performance opened with a grand entrance from Dr. Beverly Vaughn, who dazzled the audience with her passionate conducting and brilliant rose-gold gown. Her entrance was followed by a candle-lit procession to John Francis Wade’s “O Come All Ye Faithful.” The choir then performed several pieces from “Messiah,” including—but not limited to— “And the Glory of the Lord,” “He Shall Purify,” “Oh, Thou that Tellest Good Tidings to Zion,” “For Unto Us a Child is Born,” “Glory to God,” and “Hallelujah.”

Members of Stockton’s Oratorio Society gather backstage prior to the performance. Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Myers.

The choir also featured a number of soloists, including Joanne Adams, Joseph Addeo, Megan Baldwin, Lee-Ann Blake, Tula Christopoulos, Robin L. DeMarsico, W. Bruce Grant, Julie-Ann Green, Christopher Lorge, Dr. Diana Hughes, Morgan Kahn, Lisa March, Frank B. Mitchell III, James W. Moore, Susan Rasera, Breanna Reynolds, and last but not least, Frank Vogel.

Among those performing included tenor Allen “Al” Mattox (far left), who has been a part of the Stockton Oratorio Society for roughly 30 years. To Mattox, the Messiah Gala is more than just a performance; “it’s a tradition and an appreciation of that art form…I love Handel’s ‘Messiah.’ I’ve been doing it since high school,” said Mattox. When asked about how he was feeling about performing at the gala this year, he replied, “Good! Good, I always say that it’s chaotic leading up to the day, but I think it’s going to come out fine.”

And come out fine it did, judging by the crowd’s enthusiastic, awed cheers throughout the performance. Dr. Vaughn referred to the performance as a “blessed and special moment” in her life, deeming it “truly unforgettable.” She concluded the performance with “Go Tell It On the Mountains” and “Silent Night,” strongly encouraging audience participation.

Members of the Stockton Oratorio Society will be taking part in Asbury United Methodist Church AC’s “Duke Ellington’s Sacred Concerts” performance, which will be held at the church at 4:00 p.m. on December 17th, 2022. The performance, which incorporates classical, jazz, gospel, blues, visual arts, and dance, will feature Laranah Phipps Ray & Her Jazz Arksemble.

For more information about the Stockton Oratorio Society, its website can be accessed here: https://www.stockton.edu/oratorio/