Touted as one of the finest counter-tenors, Stephen Diaz had the congregation at a New Zealand Opera School service in the Collegiate School chapel yesterday mesmerised.

His is a voice so pure, full of light and magical that nothing stirred as he sang Whakaaria Mai (How Great Thou Art).

It was as though everyone had collectively held their breath as his voice of profound beauty rang out and rippled around the old chapel, as long shafts of sunlight spilled through the stained-glass windows.

Helping create this special moment was an emotive mihi (Maori greeting) given by assistant stagecraft director Kararaina Walker.


The service, titled In Praise Of Music with the theme of the "Beauty of the Earth", was uplifting and was one of the largest congregations (of 430 people) there has been at the school's annual chapel service.

In full voice this congregation, with the choir of opera students' rendition after Diaz of How Great Thou Art, was rousing and beautiful.

Then the choir of students - with three singing from the organ loft above the chapel at the back - sung The Heavens Are Telling the Glory of God.

You could have closed your eyes and believed you were hearing angels in the firmament. Just glorious.

School executive director and founder Donald Trott's opening reflections were based on the late Carl Sagan's inspiring book The Blue Dot. Sagan was an American astronomer, cosmologist, astrophysicist, astrobiologist, author and science communicator in astronomy and other natural sciences.

Sagan wrote that "the Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena".

"Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot," his book says.

"Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatred."

Yesterday's service was heartfelt and when the students filed down the centre aisle at the close you could see they were happy and proud.

The New Zealand Opera School has brought to the people of Whanganui fine music yet again.

Its next feat is to bring in younger music lovers, for they are missing a veritable classical musical banquet.