Verdi Chorus Scores Again In Santa Monica


December 3, 2015

By Steven Lieberman

Observer Reporter

There was song and dance, castanets and celebration as The Verdi Chorus took the stage for their fall performances this past weekend at the acoustically-sound First United Methodist Church in Santa Monica.

This is the chorus' 33rd year of showcasing glorious operatic repertoire and continues to be one of the jewels of the Los Angeles opera scene and showed the audience why as they presented two flawless performances that were themed "Fire and Spice."

The concerts were presented in honor of esteemed Cuban composer Maestro Aurelio de la Vega in honor of his 90th birthday. After intermission, he was presented with two certificates for all of his accomplishments. LA Philharmonic conductor Gustavo Dudamel praised de la Vega for his work and for his commitment to educating generations of young composers in Cuba and the United States.

There was also a moment-of-silence as chorus president Frank Strauss encouraged the audience to honor all the lives that were lost during the recent attacks in Paris. The healing that music brings to the world.

The concert was again led by founding artistic director/conductor Anne Marie Ketchum who has rocketed the chorus to the next dimension.

Kudos must also go out to long-time, Julliard-trained accompanist, the indefatigable Laraine Ann Madden, who makes the piano sound like a symphony. The concert was also in memoriam to her beloved husband Ray Madden, a long-time member of the chorus, who recently passed away.

An internationally-renowned triumvirate of soloists performed led by the return of fan-favorite baritone Roberto Perlas Gomez. Joining him was tenor Todd Wilander and mezzo-soprano Audrey Babcock.

Renowned flamenco dancer Misuda Cohen also performed.

Highly-skilled section leaders from the chorus – "The Walter Fox Singers" - also join the soloists on an assortment of songs.

The concert included excerpts from the operas Don Carlo, Samson and Delilah, La Vida Breva, Otello, Il Trovatore, Carmen, La Taberna Del Puerto, Granada, and Maravilla.

Of the many bright spots during the course of the well-rounded program, here are a few.

"Spunto ecco il di" from Don Carlo by Verdi, which has become one of the chorus's signature pieces and chosen by Ketchum to kick-off the concert. Soprano section leader Laura Liebreich-Johnson sang her solo beautifully. Wilander and Gomez gave a sterling rendition of the famous duet, "Dio, che nell'alma infondere amor."

Babcock, owning a great stage presence, was a magnificent Carmen, demanding the audience's attention with her voice and performance art. She also knows how to entertain with castanets, as displayed during her singing of "Granada."

Her duet with Wilander, singing "Mon Coeur s'ouvre a ta voiz" from Samson Et Dalila by Saint-Saens was also a highlight.

Cohen's dancing was well-polished and elegant, and with great costumes. She was featured in La Vida Breve by De Falla and two pieces in Carmen, one as the escort to Escamillo in the finale. Kudos to tenor section leader Joseph Garate for his role in Breve.

Section leaders VaNessa Hulme, Megan Gillespie and Anne-Marie Reyes also shined in their roles in Carmen, and the chorus capably handled "La cloche a sonne" and " Dans l'air nous suivon des yeux."

Ketchum strategically and wisely chose "The Toreador Song (Votre toast, je peux vous le render)" as the finale. Gomez performed the role just like Bizet intended it to be, with confidence and of course a sterling baritone sound that projects.

Toreador, love awaits you!

Love! Love! Love!

After a standing ovation, a symphony of bravos, flowers delivered to the right people, the opera lovers were then treated to the traditional post-concert meet & greet with refreshments in the hall next to the sanctuary.

For more information about their up-coming 2016 spring concerts, please visit


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