Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Coming Attraction: Verdi Chorus in Spring Concert

by Rodney Punt

Saturday, March 28, 2009; 7:30 p.m.
Sunday, March 29, 2009; 4 p.m.
First United Methodist Church
1008 11th Street in Santa Monica

Excerpts from Maria Stuarda and Don Pasquale by Donizetti, Un Ballo in Maschera by Verdi, Cavaleria Rusticana by Mascagni, and Candide by Bernstein

Anne Marie Ketchum, Music Director
Lori Ann Fuller, soprano
Hak Soo Kim, tenor
Eugene Chan, baritone

Tickets: $30 general; $40 reserved; $25 seniors; $10 students (25 & younger with student ID). Information: visit The Verdi Chorus at http://www.verdichorus.org/ or call 310.684.3024.

A CD I have treasured for years is a sampler of opera choruses from Deutsche Grammophon called Va, Pensiero. It's got a feast of Verdi chestnuts on it like the titled chorus from Nabucco and selections from Aida, Don Carlo, Otello, La Traviata and a lot more. This is music that stirs my blood any time of the day, the kind I listen to in the car on those long upstate drives on Highway 5. Outside it may be flat and boring, but inside my Volvo I’m a singing Walter Mitty, bellowing away with a host of glorious singers in one gripping musical drama after another.

Wouldn’t it be great to hear a whole bunch of opera choruses live on a single evening? Wait no longer. The Verdi Chorus has a dandy spring program lined up, and will be singing excerpts from Maria Stuarda and Don Pasquale by Donizetti, Un Ballo in Maschera by Verdi, Cavaleria Rusticana by Mascagni, and Candide by Bernstein with some fine soloists to add spice to the evening. All this at prices right for our droopy economic times.

If you hung around the Santa Monica scene during the 1980s, you may have encountered the origins of the Verdi Chorus at a place once called “Verdi, Ristorante di Musica” where diners were treated to opera with professional singers a la carte. (Having been a Santa Monica resident since 1974, I remember the same building earlier housing a funeral home, but let’s not dwell on this; Italian operas already leave enough dead bodies lying around.)

In 1983, an attractive young singer, Anne Marie Ketchum, was performing at Verdi's when its owners asked her to take a small group of customers who loved opera and turn them into a full-fledged chorus. Ketchum agreed and got to work.

Today, the Verdi Chorus is a thriving organization – the restaurant closed in 1991 – with over 50 members, a repertoire of nearly 200 opera choruses, and a reputation as a first rate semi-professional chorus. As such, it is just one of the legs that makes up a Los Angeles that is increasingly opera savvy.

Among those who admire the progress the Verdi Chorus has made under Ketchum’s tutelage is renowned local mezzo-soprano Suzanna Guzmán, who has sung many roles at the Los Angeles Opera, but first appeared with the Chorus as a guest soloist in the 1980s. “The Verdi Chorus is an astonishing success story,” says Guzmán, hailing Ketchum's work with the ensemble. “I have enjoyed every single opportunity I have had to sing with the group from the last century to this. Lifting your voice up to be a part of something bigger than yourself is magic, and the Verdi Chorus celebrates that kind of magic.”

So, break out of your economic funk, head to First United Methodist Church in Santa Monica, and enjoy some really fine choral music that offers - how can I put this diplomatically? - nary a promise of holy redemption. Let me know if you need a recommendation for a good Italian restaurant after the concert. Or possibly a funeral home to collect the bodies.

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