Whitbourn’s ‘Annelies’ premieres at Touro Synagogue

By ALAN SMASON, Exclusive to the CCJN

Touro Synagogue served as the setting for the regional premiere of an oratorio based on “The Diary of Anne Frank,” following Friday evening worship services there on April 13. Members of the Symphony Chorus of New Orleans (SCNO), along with several soloists, performed James Whitbourn’s “Annelies,” an oratorio for chorus written in English and based on the best-selling documentation of the Holocaust that is subtitled “The Diary of a Young Girl.”   

Executive director of the Symphony Chorus of New Orleans Steven Edwards bows following the performance of “Annelies.” (Photo by Alan Smason)

Featuring a libretto by Melody Challenger that was culled directly from the English translation of the diary, the musical work was performed in the main sanctuary on the day following the observance of Yom Ha’Shoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. The title refers to the real Dutch spelling of the first name of the girl known to the world as Anne Frank.

Steven Edwards, the executive director of SCNO conducted the score, which included solos for soprano RuthAnn Chadwick as well as accompaniment by violinist Kate Withrow, clarinetist Christopher Pell, pianist Brian Hsu and cellist Jonathan Gerhardt.

“Annelies” was first performed in 2005 in Whitbourn’s native England. The oratorio opens with a short prelude and is followed by 13 vocal selections, including several passages dedicated for a soprano soloist, who acts as the voice of the girl who hid away with her family and others in an attic in Amsterdam for more than two years during the Nazi occupation of Holland.

Touro Synagogue Senior Rabbi Alexis Berk welcomed congregants who had taken a break between a Shabbat meal and the time the program was slated to begin at 7:45 p.m. She introduced the work by alluding to a recent column by CCJN commentator Rabbi David Wolpe, which spoke to the “ghosts” of former Jewish communities in Spain and how to honor them by remembering them.

The 70-minute long presentation was underwritten with support from the Jewish Endowment Foundation of Louisiana, the Department of Jewish Studies at Tulane University and the Arts Council of New Orleans.

“Annelies” was performed a second time on Sunday, April 15 at St. Mary’s Catholic Church, 1116 Chartres Street, as part of the French Quarter Festival.

Photos from the presentation:


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