At a time when group singing is a forbidden and dangerous activity, the virtual programming of Santa Monica’s own Verdi Chorus has created a sanctuary for opera singers and appreciators alike.

Facing an indefinite industry shutdown, the chorus has come together to build an artist relief fund and an online concert series featuring some of the most promising professional area singers.

At the helm of this effort is founding Artistic Director Anne Marie Ketchum, who has helped steer the 54 member strong group through 38 seasons. She is organizing a series of musical soirees highlighting the talent and tenacity of opera singers from the choir’s young professional ‘Fox Singers’ program.

“These singers are the beginnings of their career. It’s a horrible thing to happen when you’re just starting to pull it together and suddenly there are no opportunities,” said Ketchum. “It becomes really hard to get yourself to learn new music and keep your art going, so it’s been part of my goal to give these people something to do when there’s nothing else out there.”

This fall’s Spanish focused ‘Amor y Odio’ concert was met with an outpouring of support from the classical music community, and the Fox Singers are preparing to bring the lush world of Italian art songs to life for the April 11 ‘Amore della Vita’ concert.

While the Chorus is known for its large group numbers, this online series gave singers the opportunity to showcase solos and delve into the world of art songs, which are opera songs that don’t form part of a larger operatic work.

“It’s like the difference between a poem and a novel,” said Ketchum. “A novel would be the opera, the whole story, and an art song is like a poem that stands on its own.”

The upcoming event is a far cry from typical Zoom performances, which are plagued by poor sound quality and audio lags. Each piece is rehearsed extensively and professionally filmed in a recording studio. The videos are then stitched together and interspersed with Ketchum’s narration of their language, significance, and history.

“The Verdi Chorus wanted us to have as close to a real life classical music making experience as possible, because it’s fulfilling for us as artists intrinsically as well as extrinsically, and the audience hears a difference too,” said Fox Singer Tiffany Ho.

When Covid hit last spring the Verdi Chorus had to put the emergency brakes on its major spring concert. Ketchum felt deeply for all of her singers and put together a relief fund to ensure everyone received at least part of their planned compensation.

“When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade and I feel like the Verdi Chorus has really done that and tried to make the best lemonade possible out of these lemons,” said Ho.

Ho has been with the Chorus for four seasons and was on the cusp of leaving her day job to perform full time when the pandemic inserted an unplanned intermission into her blossoming career. She helped build the ‘SoCal Vocalist Relief Fund’ to compensate the broader community of singers who have been severely impacted by the pandemic.

Not only did vocalists lose all job opportunities, but because many of them are contract workers they often didn’t quality for unemployment benefits or Covid-19 related relief programs.

Even in the best of times the opera world is incredibly competitive and employment opportunities are scarce. While it forms a niche section of today’s music industry, opera is a 400 year art form that spans many cultures and languages.

“Opera blends together so many different things whether it’s theater, dance, art, language, or history,” said Fox Singer Joseph Gárate. “Every opera role has so much to explore and has become a lifestyle that has continued to sustain me artistically and personally, so I’m incredibly grateful to be part of the Verdi Chorus.”

The upcoming Amore della Vita concert will be released at 10am on April 11 on the Verdi Chorus’s website. The concert is free to all but viewers are encouraged to contribute to the Artist Relief Fund: https://www.verdichorus.org/artist-relief-fund/

Clara@smdp.com