Verdi Chorus Announces 35th Anniversary Concert With Four Guest Soloists

Verdi Chorus Announces 35th Anniversary Concert With Four Guest Soloists

The Verdi Chorus celebrates its 35th anniversary with its Spring 2018 concert The Force of Destiny for two performances only at the First United Methodist Church in Santa Monica on April 28 and 29 led by Founding Artistic Director Anne Marie Ketchum. As the only choral group in Southern California that focuses primarily on the dramatic and diverse music for opera chorus, their program will feature selections from three Verdi operas - La forza del destino, Nabucco, including the famed chorus "Va, pensiero," the opening party scene of La traviata, and conclude with beloved melodies from Strauss' Die Fledermaus.

The program will feature four guest soloists: soprano Shana Blake Hill, hailed by Opera News for her "flood of glorious sound," mezzo-soprano Karin Mushegain called "superb" by The New York Times, tenor Alex Boyer, celebrated in The San Francisco Chronicle for his "grit and vocal power," and baritone Ben Lowe, who returns to the Verdi Chorus by popular demand and who recently made his New York debut at BAM in Matthew Aucoin's opera Crossing.

Founding Artistic Director Anne Marie Ketchum says, " I am so excited to be honoring the 35th season of the Verdi Chorus and to celebrate our thirty-five years of music making. The literal translation of Verdi's La forza del destino is "The Force of Destiny" and this could not be more apt in relation to the ongoing longevity of the Verdi Chorus. When the Chorus was launched in 1983 at the Verdi Restaurant in Santa Monica, there was just no way of knowing what we would grow into as a performing arts organization. We've not only outlived the restaurant where it all began and where we first started presenting opera choruses in concert, we have also become a force in the L.A. classical music community and are proud to be able to provide career development opportunities for young professional singers.

I am particularly pleased to have four exciting soloists for this benchmark event. It is only appropriate to be surrounded by dear friends on the occasion of an anniversary, and Shana Blake Hill is not only a dear friend who has joined us as a guest soloist before, she is one of the most expressive singers I know. I've nicknamed her "Cords of Steel" as her voice is capable of doing anything! This will be the first time Karin Mushegain and Alex Boyer are appearing with the Verdi Chorus, and I am so impressed with their vast talents and so honored to have them join us. And it is an absolute joy to welcome Ben Lowe back to the Verdi Chorus after the thrilling dramatic and comic arias he wowed our audiences with last Fall. I can't think of a more exciting way to usher in our next 35 years!"

The Verdi Chorus prepares for concerts with rehearsals that take place every Monday night. There, an amazing thing happens as over 50 singers gather together from every walk of life to become the Verdi Chorus. This wide swath of people includes singers from 22 to 80 who come from a variety of professions, and yet have one thing in common: the desire to sing side by side each week and delve into the rich, dramatic world of opera. They in turn are joined by opera stars at the beginning of their careers, and college students who have just begun to realize their operatic gifts, as all of them become one under the direction of Founding Artistic Director Anne Marie Ketchum. Each rehearsal is like a vocal master class.

Raising their voices together they become the lively entourage of renowned courtesan Violetta Valéry, the unruly crowd found inside the inn at Hornachuelos one fateful night, the weary but fiercely impassioned chorus of Hebrew slaves, and finally, the joyful guests of Prince Orlofsky in turn of the century Vienna.

Further demonstrating the organization's mission to provide performance opportunities to young professional singers, fourteen highly promising singers are hired as section leaders and rehearsal coaches. Known as the Walter Fox Singers, named in memory of a long-time Chorus and Board member, these singers assist the Artistic Director, provide direction for their sections in rehearsals, and have opportunities to perform as featured singers in performances. The Walter Fox Singers also perform on occasion independently of the full Chorus, serving as a showcase for the singers and as ambassadors for the Verdi Chorus. Performances of special arias and ensembles have been presented at venues in Southern California including the Annenberg Beach House, The Broad Stage, the Huntington Library, and the Nixon Library.

The Chorus is also proud to continue with the Apprentice Singers program that was established in 2015 in which talented vocal music students at the college level gain the opportunity to work with the Chorus in rehearsals and sing operatic music in concert. Participants in the program for this session are soprano Natalia Ferreiro, alto Emma Berggren and tenor Taj Jegaraj. Each receives a scholarship to provide funds with which they can broaden their music studies. Apprentices who successfully complete the program are invited back to sing with the Chorus for subsequent sessions.

Performance times are Saturday, April 28 at 7:30 pm, and Sunday, April 29 at 2 pm at the First United Methodist Church in Santa Monica, located at 1008 11th Street, Santa Monica, CA 90403.

Tickets are available for purchase at or by calling (800) 838-3006. Priority seating is available for $40, general admission is $30, seniors are $25, and students aged 25 and under with a valid ID are $10.

Music Director and Founding Artistic Director ANNE MARIE KETCHUM has been the conductor of the Verdi Chorus since its inception in 1983. She holds a Bachelor's degree in Choral Conducting and a Master's degree in Voice Performance from California State University, Northridge, where she studied choral conducting with John Alexander and served as his assistant conductor. As a singer, she has appeared internationally and is well known for her performances of contemporary art music, vocal chamber music, solo recitals, and opera. She has made several recordings of contemporary music. Among her more recent activities Ms. Ketchum was the Stage Director for the Metropolitan Opera National Council - Western Region Showcase Concerts in Palm Springs for five years. She helped create This and My Heart: A Portrait of Emily Dickinson in Text and Song, a concert/theater piece which she co-wrote and performed with actress Linda Kelsey and pianist Victoria Kirsch. This was presented as part of Grand Performances in Los Angeles and made possible by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Cultural Affairs Department of Los Angeles. In February of 2012, she premiered a piece in New York by Aurelio de la Vega entitled Recordatio for soprano and ten instruments, which was written for her.

Accompanist LARIANE ANN MADDEN has garnered acclaim as one of the most sensitive and experienced collaborating artists in the Los Angeles area. Trained in the Bay Area, she made her solo debut with the Oakland Symphony at age 13 performing Mozart's Piano Concerto in A Major, K. 488. Ms. Madden studied Accompanying at the University of Southern California with its pioneer teacher, Gwendolyn Koldofsky and has accompanied in the master classes of Martin Katz, Geoffrey Parsons, Giorgio Tozzi, Martial Singher, Joan Dornemann and Peter Pears. She has served as "repetiteur" accompanist under conductors Simon Rattle, Christoph Perrick and Richard Buckley, and has appeared in concert with singers associated with New York City Opera, the Metropolitan Opera, and Los Angeles Opera including Alan Titus, Rod Gilfry, Erie Mills, Young Mi Kim and Ealynn Voss. Recent engagements include performing on the Jacaranda Concert Series and with the Walter Fox Singers at the Annenberg Beach House in Santa Monica, the Huntington Library in Pasadena, and the Richard Nixon Library for the Marshall B. Ketchum University Shared Visions Gala. This is her twentieth year as collaborator with the Verdi Chorus.

Soprano SHANA BLAKE HILL continues to excite audiences and critics alike as she proves herself a multifaceted performer in both operatic and orchestral repertoires. Opera News recently hailed Ms. Hill's Cincinnati Opera debut of Rosalba in Florencia en el Amazonas "... a highlight of the performance ... floods of glorious sound." Hill's performance of composer Bright Sheng's The Phoenix with The Philadelphia Orchestra caused the Saratogan to exclaim, "Shana Blake Hill was amazing in this very difficult soprano role ... her richly colored tone lent dignity and a sense of awe to the tale. She was a mesmerizing presence." Hill has appeared as a principal artist with such opera companies as: LA Opera, Savonlinna Festival Opera (Finland), Dayton Opera, Cincinnati Opera, Opera Pacific, Long Beach Opera, Santa Barbara Opera, Fargo Moorhead Opera, San Luis Obispo Mozart Festival Opera, Berkshire Opera and Opera Nova. She has also been featured as a solo artist with orchestras such as; The Philadelphia Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, Pacific Symphony, Berkeley Symphony, New West Symphony, Pacific Chorale, Florida Philharmonic, Naples Philharmonic, Pasadena Symphony, Louisville Orchestra, Colorado Symphony, and Durham Symphony.

Especially at home with contemporary music, some of Ms. Hill's world premiers and projects include: Sakagawea in Michael Ching's opera Corps of Discovery; on the Louis and Clark expedition, Sally Hemings in Glenn Paxton's Monticello on the life of Thomas Jefferson; Ticie in On Gold Mountain by Nathan Wang, commissioned by LA Opera on the novel by Lisa See; Sara's Diary: 9/11, a dramatic song cycle on prose by Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Leroy Aarons for NPR live radio broadcast; and both the roles of Rosalba and Florencia Grimaldi in Daniel Catan's Florencia en el Amazonas.

Hill was chosen by legendary film composer Jerry Goldsmith to record the title track "The Mission" which opens Paramount's film The Sum of All Fears. said "what sets it apart is the operatic performance of Shana Blake Hill ... a stirring opening which proves to be the highpoint of the score." This performance of "The Mission" is part of Paramount Studio's 90th Anniversary Favorite Soundtrack CD. Other credits include solos on the soundtracks of the films Red Dirt and the Sci-Fi Series "Seven Days to Midnight".

She is heard on the Naxos label with Bright Sheng's The Phoenix and Hill's subscription debut (The Phoenix) with The Philadelphia Orchestra and Charles Dutoit, Violetta in La traviata with Dayton Opera, Mr. Tambourine Man by John Corigliano with the Pasadena Symphony, Roberta in An American Tragedy by Tobias Picker (West Coast premiere), A world premiere song cycle by William H. Curry with the North Carolina Symphony, Mozart's Requiem with the Pasadena Symphony and Northwest Sinfonietta, Nedda in I Pagliacci with Opera Sacramento, Violetta in La traviata with Opera Southwest, Maria in West Side Story with the Lexington Philharmonic, A Christmas Celebration at Disney Hall, and an evening of three Puccini heroines with the Northwest Sinfonietta. Projects in development include a classical cabaret series in Downtown LA in collaboration with The Blankenship Ballet, and a new album/live performance project with Grammy winning producer Andreao Heard.

Born in North Carolina, Ms. Hill received her Bachelor of Music degree from the Oberlin Conservatory of Music and her Master of Music from the University of Southern California Thornton School of Music, and is an Alumna of the Los Angeles Opera's Resident Artist program. She is a proud resident of and participant in the downtown LA arts community.

Mezzo KAREN MUSHEGAIN called "superb" (The New York Times), and hailed for possessing "a rich voice and infectious theatricality" (Colorado Gazette), is captivating audiences with her exciting, energetic portrayals, dramatic poise, and dynamic vocal sound. During the 2016 - 2017 season, Mushegain portrayed Aldonza in Man of La Mancha with Indianapolis Opera, made her role debut as Despina in Così fan tutte with Pasadena Opera, and sang Handel's Messiah in concert with The Salastina Music Society. Highlights of the 2017 - 2018 season include Suzuki in Madame Butterfly with Opera San Luis Obispo, Aldonza in Man of La Mancha with Pensacola Opera, her role debut as Zibaldona in Alma Deutscher's Cinderella with Opera San Jose, the soloist in Bernstein's Symphony No.1 Jeremiah with Bakersfield Symphony, and the mezzo soloist in Mozart's Requiem with Sacramento Choral Society.

During the 2015 - 2016 season, Ms. Mushegain portrayed Cherubino in Le nozze di Figaro with Seattle Opera and Opera San Jose, sang Dorabella in Così fan tutte with Festival Lyrique-en-Mer in France, and returned to her signature role of La Cenerentola with both Bob Jones University and the Manila Symphony Orchestra, marking her Asia debut.

During the 2014-2015 season, Ms. Mushegain joined Gotham Chamber Opera as the title role in El gato con botas, Austin Lyric Opera for her role debut as Zerlina in Don Giovanni, Long Beach Opera for her company and role debut in Philip Glass' Hydrogen Jukebox, a role debut of Paquette in Candide, and a company and role debut of Daphnis in Daphnis and Chloe with Heartbeat Opera where she "sang with an appealing clear, ringing mezzo and unusually good diction. She subtly incorporated just the right touch of masculinity when appropriate, swaggering knowingly after her indoctrination by the nymphs." (Opera News)

Ms. Mushegain recently made her Seattle Opera debut as the title role in La Cenerentola, where she was hailed as an "excellent singing actress - sailing through the title role with an assured performance." (Seattle Times) During the 2013 - 2014 season, Ms. Mushegain made her role debut as Carmen with Opera San Luis Obispo to great acclaim, sang the title role in La Cenerentola with Pensacola Opera, and debuted in concert with the Virginia Symphony in Rossini's Stabat Mater. She also performed Rosina in Il barbiere di Siviglia with Lyrique-en-mer in France, joined the esteemed Festival Mozaic for Villa-Lobos' Bachianas Brasileiras, and portrayed her first Cherubino in Le nozze di Figaro with Virginia Opera, where she performed the role "as convincingly and as delightfully as any I can recall...with exquisite comedic timing," (Washington Post) and did "a terrific job in this trouser role, with a voice as bright as a silvery bell and a boyish swagger that emphasizes the comedy in every scene in which she appears." (The Washington Times).

Highlights of recent seasons include her role and company debut as Hansel in Hansel and Gretel with Virginia Opera, Stefano in Romeo et Juliette with Annapolis Opera, and Flora in La traviata with New York City Opera, where she "made a strong NYCO debut." (Opera News) She made her European debut in the title role of Rossini's La Cenerentola with Lyrique-en-mer, returned to New York's Gotham Chamber Opera to sing the title role in Montsalvatge's El gato con botas, and made her Austin Lyric Opera debut reprising the role of Minskwoman in Jonathan Dove's Flight where she "handles the ups and downs of her character's plight with steady determination and nails the part vocally with a strong, yearning performance." (The Austin Chronicle).

Additional engagements of note include collaborating with Ricky Ian Gordon on his "Bright Eyed Joy" concert series, Rosina in Il barbiere di Siviglia with Ash Lawn Opera Festival, Dorabella in Cosí fan tutte with Opera Memphis, and her Los Angeles Opera debut in Oscar-winning director William Friedkin's production of Suor Angelica under the baton of James Conlon. She spent two seasons at Glimmerglass Opera where she sang Alessandro in the first professional US premiere of Handel's Tolomeo and Tisbe in La Cenerentola, while also covering the title role in Tolomeo and the Secretary in Menotti's The Consul.

She has also performed as Flora in La traviata and Tisbe in La Cenerentola with Florida Grand Opera, Maria in West Side Story, and La Ciesca in both Gianni Schicchi and Michael Ching's Buoso's Ghost with Lake George Opera, Dryade in Ariadne auf Naxos, Amastre in Händel's Xerxes, Sicle in Cavalli's Ormindo, Zweite Dame in Die Zauberflöte, and the Minskwoman in Jonathan Dove's Flight, all with Pittsburgh Opera.

Off the opera stage, Ms. Mushegain can be heard on multiple soundtracks for the ever-popular video game series, Heroes of Might and Magic.

Tenor ALEX BOYER is steadily gaining recognition for his commanding voice and dramatic portrayals of the lyric and spinto tenor repertoire. Hailed by the San Francisco Chronicle for Festival Opera's production of Pagliacci, Boyer "mustered a large, potent sound that brought a welcome measure of anguish and dark menace to the role of Canio; his delivery of the famous showpiece 'Vesti la giubba' lacked nothing in the way of grit and vocal power." Other recent engagements include covering the roles of Pollione in Norma, Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly, and Ahab in Moby Dick with the Dallas Opera, performing the roles of the Abbot in Andrea Chénier and Remendado in Carmen with San Francisco Opera, Rodolfo in La bohème and the Duke of Mantua in Rigoletto with Island City Opera, Marcello in Leoncavallo's La bohème and Alwa in Lulu with the acclaimed West Edge Opera, Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly with Livermore Valley Opera, Lenski in Evgeny Onegin with Opera Idaho, and Edgardo in Lucia di Lammermoor and Manrico in Il trovatore with Island City Opera.

As a resident principal artist with Opera San Jose, he performed Manrico in Il trovatore, Rinuccio in Gianni Schicchi, Canio in Pagliacci, the title role in Faust, Cavaradossi in Tosca, the title role in Idomeneo, and many others. He is an alumnus of the Merola Opera Program, the Santa Fe Opera Apprentice Program for Singers, and is a recipient of the Mario Lanza Scholarship Award. A New York native, Boyer holds degrees from Boston University and Manhattan School of Music.

Baritone BEN LOWE received his Masters of Music at UCLA studying voice under Vladimir Chernov and opera with Peter Kazaras. Mr. Lowe is a graduate of Cal State Dominguez Hills where he received his BA in music. He has been a featured soloist in Redlands Bowl Festival and Celestial Opera Company. While at UCLA, Mr. Lowe performed in Poulenc's Les Dialogues des Carmélites, Offenbach's Orpheus in the Underworld, Monteverdi's L'incoronazione di Poppea and Ravel's L'enfant et les sortilèges.

Lowe has also been a part of the workshop that performed and recorded a new opera by Jonathan Sheffer, Blood on the Dining Room Floor. He took part in the reading of a new opera by Mitch Glickman, The Princess of Javasu. Lowe has been a featured soloist with the UCLA Philharmonic, performing Mozart's C Minor Mass and Requiem. He was the featured soloist in Brahms German Requiem with the Cal State Dominguez Hills Chorale. He was the baritone soloist in Fauré's Requiem with the Angeles Chorale on the tenth anniversary of 9/11 at the Los Angeles Cathedral and made his Disney Hall debut singing the baritone solo in Beethoven's Ninth Symphony.

Lowe has sung recitals for the Opera Guild of Southern California, the Opera Associates, and many other music organizations. Lowe performed the role of Renato in Verdi's Un ballo in maschera in the Opera Buffs first ever Opera in Concert. Mr. Lowe's other performance credits include the new opera The Dove and the Nightingale by Roger Bourland which was premiered in Mazatlán, Mexico. He is a featured soloist with the California Philharmonic and the Golden State Pops Orchestra. This last concert season, Lowe performed Handel's Messiah and Orff's Carmina Burana and Dvorak's Stabat Mater. Lowe's other performances include UCLA's I due Figaro and singing the bass solo in the Verdi Requiem in Royce Hall. This last Spring Mr. Lowe was a part of UCLA's West Coast premieres of John Musto's Bastianello and William Bolcom's Lucrezia. Mr. Lowe also recently completed the role of Escamillo in UCLA's production of The Tragedy of Carmen, his final performance as a graduate student.

Mr. Lowe spent this last summer working with Marilyn Horne at the Music Academy of the West where he performed the role of Bonobo in Mathew Aucoin's Second Nature. While attending Music Academy of the West, Mr. Lowe was selected as the winner of the 2016 Marilyn Horne Song Competition. This Spring Mr. Lowe will go on a recital tour representing The Music Academy of the West. This summer Mr. Lowe will return to Music Academy of the West as a 2017 Fellow performing the role of Dulcamara in The Elixir of Love. He will also be performing the role of Zuniga in the Opera Buffs concert performance of Bizet's Carmen.

The Verdi Chorus is a Southern California nonprofit organization dedicated to presenting opera choruses in concert and to providing career development opportunities for young professional singers. As the only choral group in Southern California that focuses primarily on the dramatic and diverse music of the opera chorus, the Verdi Chorus gives talented amateur singers the unique opportunity to sing side-by-side with professional singers in rehearsals leading up to performances held to the highest artistic standards. Under the direction of its remarkable Artistic Director Anne Marie Ketchum, each rehearsal is like a vocal master class.

The Verdi Chorus was founded in 1983 at the Verdi Restaurant in Santa Monica. When the restaurant closed in 1991, the Verdi Chorus continued. In 1999, the chorus incorporated as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Under the continuous direction of Founding Artistic Director Anne Marie Ketchum, the chorus presents four concerts each year as well as other collaborative events. Its repertoire includes over 300 choruses from 81 operas in seven languages.

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