Santa Monica’s Verdi Chorus hits the high notes of love in “L’Amore e la Vita”

By Christina Campodonico

Singers from all walks of life spread the joy of opera through the Verdi Chorus

Love and devotion are emotions the Verdi Chorus knows well. Even after the Santa Monica restaurant from which they formed (and took their name) closed in 1991, the choral group continued their infatuation with singing opera.

What started in 1983 as 20-some singers at the Verdi Restaurant now counts around 60 members. Over the years, the chorus has grown into a nonprofit organization that not only trains young opera professionals to build up their vocal chops, but also provides serious hobbyists an outlet to express their love of operatic music.

Love and commitment crossed paths again when guest tenor Nathan Granner got down on one knee to propose to soprano-soloist Jamie Chamberlin at the end of the Verdi Chorus’ fall concert in 2017.

“She [Jamie] just burst out in very loud ‘yeses’ and then started singing high notes — like a whole lot of high Cs. The whole audience was really filled with joy,” recalls Verdi Chorus founding artistic director Anne Marie Ketchum.

The couple, now married, will be back for the Verdi Chorus’ spring concert, “L’Amore e la Vita,” or “Love and Life,” at First United Methodist Church this weekend.

“What better way to celebrate the spring and love and life than that?” says Ketchum, who also hopes to inspire new audiences to fall in love with opera through a program she’s dubbed “the rom-com of opera.”

In addition to Granner and Chamberlin singing several duets as husband and wife, the Verdi Chorus will be singing excerpts from Verdi’s “I Vespri Siciliani” and “Ernani,” Georges Bizet’s “Les Pêcheurs de Perles,” Léo Delibes’ “Lakmé,” Puccini’s “La Rondine,” and selections from Gaetano Donizetti’s “Don Pasquale,” “La Fille du Régiment” and “L’Elisir d’Amore,” or “The Elixir of Love.”

“It’s a really charming piece,” says Ketchum, explaining how that comic opera follows a lovelorn “country bumpkin” who drinks from a bottle of Bordeaux guised as a love potion in order to entrance the woman he loves. “He drinks a lot and, you know, he has the effects of a really good Bordeaux. … She’s just like, ‘What’s the matter with you?’ But at the end of the opera they get together … and it’s a happy ending.”

Ketchum says to also look out for some outstanding vocal virtuosity in the “sweet little comedy” “La Fille du Régiment,” or “The Daughter of the Regiment,” an opera about an army brat who falls in love with a prisoner of war.

“One thing which is notable out of that opera is that there is an aria sung by the tenor,” she says, “and it’s a very famous aria because it has nine high Cs in it and, if you know anything about singing high C, it is a really high, high note, and there aren’t that many guys that can sing this thing. But the tenor that we have, Nathan Granner, sings the heck out of it.”

The Verdi Chorus will cap off their concert with selections from “La Rondine,” “which is just full of really gorgeous, glorious melodies,” says Ketchum, including the sweep-you-off-your-feet love song, “Bevo al Tuo Fresco Sorriso,” or “I Drink to Your Fresh Smile.”

“It’s so romantic and melodic and beautiful. So that’s going to be a beautiful ending to the concert,” says Ketchum, adding that she hopes audiences will become smitten by opera’s “visceral attack of sound.”

“You come to this and you hear something beautiful, you hear something fun, you’re hearing something moving, you get involved with it and maybe you get turned onto opera,” she says. “Maybe this art form is something new for you that you can use to inspire your life.”

The Verdi Chorus performs “L’Amore e la Vita” at 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday (April 6 & 7) at First United Methodist Church, 1008 11th St., Santa Monica. Tickets are $10 to $40. Call (800) 838-3006 or visit verdichorus.org.

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