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Evangeline was commissioned by the American Opera Company, but their disbanding in 1931 meant that the opera never received a full production. Excerpts were given in concert in 1932, and as a result the opera was awarded the prestigious Bispham Medal; Luening himself later conducted a revised version for reduced forces in 1948. The full version remains unperformed.
In Grand-Pré, Arcadia, it is the day before Evangeline, daughter of Benedict Bellefontaine, is due to be married to Gabriel Lajeunesse. Gabriel and his father arrive with news: English ships have arrived in the harbor on an unknown errand. The marriage is arranged, Gabriel sneaks back later that night to be with Evangeline. The next morning, the wedding is interrupted by a proclomation: all of the men of Grand-Pré have been ordered to assemble in the church that afternoon.
At the meeting, the residents of Grand-Pré learn that they have been exiled, their property forfeited to the English crown. Basil urges the men to resist, but Father Felician, the local priest, convinces them to trust in God instead. He leads the chorus in a prayer. ("Ave Maris.") The townspeople gather their belongings and leave for Louisiana as Evangeline prays for their safety.
At the docks, Basil is separated from the others. Gabriel, enraged, wants to resist, but Evangeline convinces him to leave peacefully, and they are separated. The villagers see Grand-Pré burning behind them, and Benedict, overcome, dies.
Many years later, in Louisiana, Evangeline learns that Gabriel, whom she has long been searching for, may be living nearby, but she does not find him. An Indian woman tells Evangeline the legend of Lilinau, an Indian woman who chased a phantom lover. Five years later, in Philadelphia, Evangeline and Gabriel are finally reunited.