A night at the opera




Trinity United Methodist Church in Tallahassee presented “A Night at the Opera” on Friday, Oct. 21.

“It was phenomenal. We did not know what sort of response we would have from the community,” Dr. Wayne Wiatt, Trinity's senior pastor, said, explaining that it was a home-game weekend for the Florida State University football team.

“But my 'preacher's estimate' is that we had well over 200 in attendance. We drew people from the community. We had a great, great crowd.”

Among the performers were Trinity members Warren May, Gregory Hilliard, Alan Bowers, David LaJeunesse and Jana Sterling.

Trinity's organist, Viktor Billa, is joined in concert by Margaret-Mary Owens, a special guest from the FSU organ department. Billa is classically trained, earning his master's degree from the Tchaikovsky National Music Academy of Ukraine in Kiev.

They performed well-known pieces from “Carmen,” “Romeo & Juliette,” “La Boheme” and other works from composers Puccini, Gounod, Verdi, Massenet, Wagner, Bizet, Donizetti, Saint-Saëns and Khachaturian.

Trinity’s organist, Viktor Billa, acted as master of ceremonies. He also performed along with Margaret-Mary Owens, a special guest from the FSU organ department.

Together they played the overture to the opera “Carmen” by G. Bizet, “Dance Macabre” by C. Saint-Saens and “Sabre Dance” by A. Khachaturian from the ballet “Gayane.”

“These are pretty challenging pieces, and we know how blessed we are to have this level of talent,” according to the church newsletter.

The driving force behind the concert was Billa, the Ukrainian-born organist who lives in the Tallahassee area after a lengthy immigration process.

Billa is classically trained and holds a master’s degree in organ performance from the Tchaikovsky National Music Academy of Ukraine in Kiev. His wife, a talented lyric coloratura soprano, also performed.    

Wiatt, who has led Trinity since July 1, previously was director of Clergy Excellence for the conference. Trinity is located near FSU and Florida A&M University, so there are a lot of music-oriented, talented people in the community to attract as members, Wiatt said.

Led by Mark Repasky, director of music, the 2,000-member church is unique in that it has 13 different musical groups, including a youth choir, children's choir, two praise bands, two steel drum choirs, a bell choir “and folks who sing opera,” Wiatt said.

“Music is foundational to this congregation's worship. (It) is a huge part of our ministry within the church and, then, outreach,” said Wiatt, who majored in vocal performance and minored in pipe organ in college. “The main point is to offer a variety of musical gifts to the community.”

Wiatt says he was called to be a pastor and to preach but he has a love for all kinds of music. His first experience singing was while standing on a piano bench in Cherry Lake United Methodist Church in rural Madison, Fla., near Tallahassee.

“When the bishop offered me the opportunity to come here, it was like coming home.”

--Ed Scott is a freelance writer based in Venice.



Viktor Billa resonates the sounds of J.S. Bach in the town of Chernivtsi, Ukraine in 2014. Trinity UMC worked for nine months to obtain a religious visa to bring Billa and his wife, Yuliia, to Tallahassee last year.


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