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Opera theater

Directed by founding artistic director Anne Marie Ketchum, the Verdi Chorus will give its autumn concert, “Ritorna Vincitori! November 13 and 14 at the First Presbyterian Church in Santa Monica. Photo by Tim Bereth

Verdi Chorus hails the return to live music with a dynamic concert

By Bridgette M. Redman

The Verdi Chorus celebrates a return to performing arts not with its usual thematic program, but with a collection of music that founding artistic director Anne Marie Ketchum really loves – pieces she wanted to work on and some having to do with it. that everyone has been through since the last time the choir performed live.

The choir, which focuses primarily on the dramatic and diverse music of opera choirs, will perform their fall concert, “Ritorna Vincitori! November 13 and 14 at the First Presbyterian Church in Santa Monica. Now in their 38th season, the Verdi Chorus will perform excerpts from “Aida” by Verdi, “Dido and Aeneas” by Purcell, “Madama Butterfly” by Puccini, “Mefistofele” by Boito, “Carmen” by Bizet and “Pagliacci” by Leoncavallo.

The concert will open with the great march of “Aida”, created by the composer from whom they take their name.

“I wanted to start with a bang – the opera is back,” Ketchum said.

They will then move on to several other “Aida” tracks, including a prayer and the end scene where Aida and Radames are locked in a grave, which Ketchum described as a magnificent tune from Verdi.
Recognizing that so many people have suffered losses over the past year, she then chose to do a set which is a time of reflection and meditation.

“It’s just to remember what has been lost in terms of everything – in terms of lives, in terms of personal relationships, in terms of money – people have lost their livelihoods. It was difficult in a lot of ways, ”Ketchum said. “So many people have felt this quite deeply. “

They will do a song “Dido and Aeneas”, the very last refrain of Purcell. Dido is deceased and she is lying with all her friends and the court around her. They invite the angels to come and surround him. Then the choir will switch to the buzzing chorus of “Madame Butterfly”.

“These two pieces are in the same key,” Ketchum said. “One is from a very old period and the other from a romantic period. They fit together so well. They are calm, thoughtful and thoughtful at the same time. It’s a bit my way of making a moment of silence, but rather a moment of beautiful opera.

They will end the first half with a set of “Mefistofele” from Boito. Boito was a contemporary of Verdi, someone who was a librettist for several of Verdi’s operas. He also wrote his own opera on the story of Faust. The choir will perform The Witches’ Choir, which Ketchum described as a very wild piece, containing a million words and a lot of nonsense. They will then end with the final number of the opera.

“All the voices of humanity come together in the last scene of this glorious melody, and then end in unison – a very powerful unison overcoming the evil of Mefistofele,” Ketchum said. “It seemed like exactly the right thing to say. This is what we do all over the world. We are figuring out this thing and how to overcome it and we are successful. I found it to be really meaningful and powerful.

The second half opens with several extracts from “Carmen” for two reasons. One, Ketchum asks how can you not love all this music from “Carmen?” And two, because she had the perfect soloist.

“Audrey Babcock is the perfect soloist, a mezzo soprano,” Ketchum said. “She is known for her ‘Carmen’. She’s a savage. She has that glorious voice and is everywhere.

They will end with “Toreador,” which Ketchum described as a fun and wonderful theater.

“It will be sung by Roberto Gomez, our baritone,” Ketchum said. “I don’t think anyone sings it quite like him.”

The program includes four guest soloists

The Verdi Choir hosts soloists who can provide those memorable solo moments of the opera. The soloists of this concert are soprano Shana Blake Hill, Babcock, tenor Alex Boyer and Gomez. Hill sang several times with the Verdi Chorus.

“She sings everywhere, but she’s perfect for this repertoire,” Ketchum said. “She is a wonderful singer. She is a deep thinker. She’s a writer – she just wrote a historical book about her great-great-grandfather who was a black doctor who changed the path of black medicine. He’s an interesting character, but one who sings absolutely beautifully.

Babcock is an award-winning mezzo soprano who has drawn attention for her towering and powerful performances as Carmen and her dark and hypnotic portrayals of Maddalena in “Rigoletto”.
Boyer is a bit new to Ketchum, but she described him as having a great and beautiful voice and as a wonderful actor.

“I’m really excited to have Alex because he’s doing Vespucci’s big clown look,” Ketchum said. “It’s very strong and there aren’t many that can do it so I can’t program it often. It’s a great opportunity to have Alex here to do it.

Gomez has over 100 roles to his name and has performed across the United States.

“He’s one of my favorites,” Ketchum said. “He’s a wonderful actor and he has a great voice that can do all kinds of things.”

The four of them became friends with Ketchum, which is one of the reasons she wanted them to perform at their first gig after the pandemic shutdowns.

“When you work with people, you get to know them,” Ketchum said. “They are all major talents and for this gig I really wanted to hire people that I love. Making music with someone you really care about is pretty special.

Chorus feels like it’s back to normal

During the pandemic, the choir had Zoom meetings every Monday evening to work together on the music. Ketchum said that while it was great to be able to keep doing that and almost the whole chorus stuck with it all the time because they needed the music and needed to see each other, it wasn’t the same. than being together in person.

“When we finally got together for the first rehearsal, there was just this deep joy,” Ketchum said. “I can hear someone and merge my voice with this and that from across the room. There is no such thing really.
She said now that the reps have progressed and they’ve settled in, they’ve started to feel normal again – they’re back and they’re comfortable. Everyone is still wearing masks, but the rehearsals are going as they always have been.

“I’m doing a pretty quick and tough repetition, and everyone’s really focused and having a good time,” Ketchum said. “There is a lot of laughter. It’s back and we do what we do, feeling a little normal.

Verdi Chorus offers something unique to the public

Ketchum pointed out that what the Verdi Chorus does is different from other opera companies that tell the whole story with music, vocals, an orchestra, sets and costumes.

“What we’re doing is focusing on a certain aspect of opera,” Ketchum said. “We do extracts. Normally, when you go to the opera, you remember an aria, a tenor or a soprano. But do you come back thinking about the chorus? Probably not that much. We can focus on this other aspect and invite soloists to join us. It’s a great way to see opera in a new way.

She said it has been a wonderful entry point for people who are not so familiar with opera. Many people told him that the Verdi Chorus introduced them to opera and that they have become big fans.
Ketchum used the phrase “It’s back” several times, expressing his excitement at the prospect of being able to perform live again.

“Going to a live concert is so different from listening to music on YouTube or listening to recordings, you just can’t compare the two,” Ketchum said. “You are in a room with a lot of other people and the sound is recreated right now, every moment. It is very different. You see it. You feel it.”

She pointed out that people experience live music in three ways: Intellectually, because they hear music and compare melodies, they hear the words and understand them or focus on them in different ways. Emotionally, because it affects them whether it’s silly, funny, deep, deep, or about love and they relate it to their own life. Physically, because when they are in the room, the sound becomes really powerful. They can hear the vibrations in their chest. It goes through their ears and it affects the way they feel it physically.

Ketchum is hoping audiences will be as excited as she is for this opening gig in their 38th season.

“We’re just having a really lovely time with it,” Ketchum said.

What: “Ritorna Vincitori!
Who: The Verdi Choir
Where: First Presbyterian
Church, 1220 2e Rue,
Santa Monica
When: 7:30 p.m. November 13,
Nov 14 2 p.m.
Tickets: $ 40 priority seating, $ 30 general admission, $ 25 for seniors, $ 10 for students 25 and under with valid ID

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