Santa Monica’s Verdi Chorus returns to in-person performance for its 38th season this week with live performances at the First Presbyterian Church in Santa Monica on November 13 and 14.
The program will feature selections from Verdi’s Aida, Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, Boito’s Mefistofele, Bizet’s Carmen, and Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci.
Led by Founding Artistic Director Anne Marie Ketchum, the Verdi Chorus is the only choral group in Southern California that focuses primarily on the dramatic and diverse music for opera chorus and the group is eager to return to its performance roots.
Like many groups, the chorus suffered during the pandemic and as a performance entity, they were specifically prohibited from gathering in person at times. Ketchum said they reorganized as best they could around virtual activities, but nothing could replace the feeling of a live show.
“I remember, you know the first time, they all got together … after this recent time when we’re able to rehearse. And there was just this kind of shock, I can hear someone sitting right next to me I can work with that, we can blend our voices we can, you know, with many voices, create an even more beautiful sound. And it was really pretty emotional.”
The program will feature four guest soloists: critically acclaimed soprano Shana Blake Hill, award-winning mezzo soprano Audrey Babcock, tenor Alex Boyer and renowned baritone Roberto Perlas Gómez.
Ketchum said she chose the performers for their outstanding talent but also, how much she enjoys working with them.
“I like to hire people that I like,” she said. “All four of these have become friends of mine, as we work together as we know each other, we share music together and relationship forms. And this particular concert, because it’s the first time back after all this awfulness, I’m wanting to do a program that is meaningful to me with people that I really care about. So it’s very personal this time. So in addition to picking the voices that fit the music, I picked the singers that I love.”
Ketchum said she’s excited for the audience to experience live music again. She said there’s a connection available in live performances that simply doesn’t translate through television or radio. That connection can stretch across time and space when audiences experience music from bygone eras or see performances that have been on stage for hundreds of years.
“They’re human beings that are creating it in that moment and there’s an emotional quality that you don’t get any other way than by listening to humans, people up on a stage, doing something experiencing something and then it comes out,” she said. “So, I think it comes more deeply inside of you.”
The chorus was born in a Santa Monica restaurant known for hosting professional opera singers. Over time, the patrons formed a dedicated chorus that has outlived the space that birthed them.
The Verdi Chorus prepares for concerts with rehearsals every Monday night. There, an amazing thing happens as over 40 singers gather together from every walk of life to become the Verdi Chorus. This wide swath of people includes singers from 18 to 80 who come from a variety of professions, and yet have one thing in common: the desire to sing side-by-side each week and delve into the rich, dramatic world of opera. They, in turn, are joined by opera stars at the beginning of their careers, and college students who have just begun to realize their operatic gifts, as all of them become one under the direction of Ketchum.
Further demonstrating the organization’s mission to provide performance opportunities to young professional singers, fourteen highly promising singers are hired as section leaders and rehearsal coaches. Known as the Fox Singers, named in memory of long-time Chorus and Board member Walter Fox, these singers assist the Artistic Director, provide direction for their sections in rehearsals, and have opportunities to perform as featured singers in performances. The Fox Singers also perform on occasion independently of the full Chorus and serve as ambassadors for the Verdi Chorus. Performances of special arias and ensembles have been presented at venues in Southern California including the Annenberg Beach House, The Broad Stage, the Huntington Library, and the Nixon Library.
The Chorus is also proud to continue with the Apprentice Singers program that was established in 2015 in which talented vocal music students at the college level gain the opportunity to work with the Chorus in rehearsals and sing operatic music in concert. Sahm Foundation Apprentices for this session, named in honor of a generous grant from the Sahm Family Foundation, are sopranos Emma Berggren, Ariana Flores and Emily Peterson, mezzo Bianca Gutierrez, tenors César Ballardin and Adam Oler and basses Sinan Kefeli and David Peterson. Each receives a scholarship to provide funds with which they can broaden their music studies. Apprentices who successfully complete the program are invited back to sing with the Chorus for subsequent sessions.
Performance times for the The Verdi Chorus Fall 2021 Concert are Saturday, November 13 at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, November 14 at 2 p.m. at the First Presbyterian Church in Santa Monica, located at 1220 2nd Street, Santa Monica, CA 90401.
Tickets are available for purchase at www.verdichorus.org or by calling (800) 838-3006. Priority seating is available for $40, general admission is $30, seniors are $25, and students aged 25 and under with a valid ID are $10.