The Verdi Chorus will perform its spring concert at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 28th and 4 p.m. Sunday, March 29th, at the First United Methodist Church, 1008 11th St., Santa Monica.

Music director Anne Marie Ketchum recalls how she was one of a number of professional opera singers performing at Verdi, Ristorante di Musica in Santa Monica in 1983, when its owners asked her to take a small group of customers who loved opera and had always dreamed of singing on stage and turn them into a full fledged chorus.

The restaurant closed in 1991, but today the Verdi Chorus is considered a successful nonprofit organization. The ensemble has over 50 members, a repertoire of nearly 200 opera choruses, and according to longtime member Robina Mapstone, has a reputation as a first-rate semi-professional chorus that has ìcome of age.î

ìThe quality of the sound that weíre able to produce and the complexity of the music Iím able to choose to give to the chorus to sing is very different from when we started out, and really quite marvelously so,î explains Ketchum, a choral director and member of the music faculty at Pasadena City College.

ìNow we do full scenes, very big finales from opera ñ complex music. I can divide the group into eight parts, if I want to, and have double choirs and pull small solos from the chorus.î

Among those who admire the progress that the Verdi Chorus has made under Ketchumís tutelage is internationally renowned mezzo-soprano Suzanna Guzm·n, who first appeared with the chorus as a guest soloist in the 1980s.

ìThe Verdi Chorus is an astonishing success story,î says Guzm·n. ìThis is one amazing group powered by passion.

ìI 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.î

Chorus president Tom Redler notes, ìThe Verdi Chorus allows you to experience wonderful opera at very affordable prices.

ìItís also a great way to introduce yourself to opera if youíve never been before. You hear highlights from great operas written not only by Guiseppe Verdi, but a vast array of composers from Beethoven to George Gershwin.î

On the program for the Spring Concert are excerpts from ìMaria Stuardaî and ìDon Pasqualeî by Donizetti, Verdiís ìUn Ballo in Maschera,î ìCavaleria Rusticanaî by Mascagni and ìCandideî by Leonard Bernstein.

The chorus will enact scenes including the events taking place in Maria Stuarda just before the beheading of the queen, servants gossiping about the intrigues taking place in Don Pasquale, and ìMake Our Garden Growî from Candide. The ensemble will also perform the ìEaster Chorusî from Cavaleria Rusticana ñ a Verdi Chorus favorite, says Ketchum. Helping to bring these scenes to life are guest soloists Lori Ann Fuller, soprano; tenor Hak Soo Kim; and baritone Eugene Chan.

Tickets for the upcoming Spring Concert are available for $30 for general seating; $40 for reserved; $25 for seniors; and $10 for students 25 and younger, with student identification.

Information, www.verdichorus.org/, or (310) 684-3024.

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