The Verdi Chorus began performing in 1983 at the Verdi Ristorante di Musica, providing diners there a combination of live opera choruses and Italian food.
The not-so-common combination helped build a name and reputation for the chorus, enough so that when its namesake restaurant closed in 1991, the chorus decided to continue on without it.
Now, the Verdi Chorus, a nonprofit organization dedicated to presenting opera choruses in concert, has made a tradition of performing annual concerts, sans the Italian food.
The Verdi chorus is scheduled to present its fall concerts at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, November 13th; and 4 p.m. Sunday, November 14th, at the First United Methodist Church, 1008 St., Santa Monica.
Tickets are $20 for general admission, $15 for seniors and $10 for students. There is also a reserved seat section in which tickets are available for $30.
Choral selections at this year’s fall concerts will include “The Polovtsian Dances” from Prince Igor, selections from Samson and Delilah and The Tales of Hoffman along with a few Verdi favorites.
Guest vocalists at this year’s concerts include soprano Robin De Leon, mezzo-soprano Cynthia Jansen, tenor Christopher Campbell and bass-baritone Dean Elzinga.
Founding artistic director Anne Marie Ketchum, who once sang solos at the original restaurant performances, has been diligent in holding the chorus together and recruiting new members as old members leave.
Ketchum holds a bachelor’s degree in choral conducting and a master’s degree in voice performance from California State University Northridge. She is associate professor of music at Pasadena City College, where she directs the opera program.
Chorus president Tom Redler, a dentist and yacht broker, found the chorus to be the vehicle that enables him to maintain a singing hobby, and has been with the group since the mid-’80s.
Redler had studied music and wanted to be a singer, but didn’t feel he should attempt to make a career out of it.
Today’s Verdi Chorus has over 50 voices, with a repertoire of some nine dozen choruses from about 50 operas in five different languages, according to the group.
Members range from young adults to those in their 70s, most of whom have had to pass an audition and must have the ability to read music.
Some members of the Verdi group have gone on to be professional successes in music, including opera star Suzanna Guzman and Grant Gershon, who was once a Verdi pianist and is now director of the Los Angeles Master Chorale, which performs at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in the Music Center in Downtown Los Angeles.
The original Verdi Chorus would rehearse at the Verdi Ristorante di Musica on Monday nights, a day that the restaurant was closed.
When the restaurant itself closed for good, members decided that they would not let the chorus end with it, even though they had lost both rehearsal and performance space.
Verdi die-hards convinced Ketchum to stay on as musical director of the group and said that members would hire her to stay on.
The group made one more attempt at staying on the restaurant scene, landing at an establishment in West Hollywood.
After this attempt didn’t work out satisfactorily, the group dropped out of dinner entertainment and moved on to a more traditional choral venue — a church.
The group has been holding its concerts at the First United Methodist Church in Santa Monica since 1993.
Information, (310) 826-8309.