Amor y Odio, Songs of Spain and the New World presented by The Verdi Chorus and the Sahm Family Foundation, featuring The Fox Singers premieres November 8 on The Verdi Chorus website. This musical soirée is the premiere offering of the new online series called Verdi Chorus Presents led by Founding Artistic Director Anne Marie Ketchum. The Fox Singers comprise the professional ensemble of The Verdi Chorus, which is the only choral group in Southern California that focuses primarily on the dramatic and diverse music for opera chorus.
Judy Tran is a multi-talented mezzo-soprano who found, after moving from Santa Monica to Altadena, that her passion for all that The Verdi Chorus does was something that kept her coming back year after year. She has now been with the ensemble for over twelve years and in these Covid times finds herself pivoting to private coaching while finding ways to still offer beautiful opera and art songs to all of us.
“I’m really a hybrid pianist and singer” Tran explains and describes herself as having her feet firmly planted in both of those worlds. She grew up playing piano and singing telling us, “my mother played and with a piano in the house, I found myself fascinated with it. It was my childhood toy.” She was involved in piano competitions while simultaneously singing in the Los Angeles Children’s Chorus where she gained experience in opera and was chosen to be in the premiere of Tobias Picker’s “The Fantastic Mr. Fox” and other performances at the Dorothy Chandler.
She studied at Oberlin Conservatory of Music, eventually graduated from UCLA with a degree in voice and says she paid her tuition by providing piano accompaniment to her fellow voice and music students. She then expanded her studies at Der Üniversität für Musik und Darstellende Kunst in Vienna, Austria. Tran now teaches voice and piano to local students, some in South Pasadena, and specializes in teaching special needs students, something she says brings her tremendous joy.
Like many Angelenos, Tran discovered The Verdi Chorus when a friend invited her to a concert where she fell instantly in love with the group. While still at UCLA, she heard that Verdi was looking for new section leaders, specifically for a second alto/low mezzo. “I gotta say, being a low singer, you don’t get as many opportunities,” she says, “so I jumped on that instantly and at the audition I met Anne Marie and (accompanist) Laraine and I fell in love with both of them and I guess they loved me too because they accepted me.”
“There are so many beautiful things about the Verdi family” says Tran, “because it truly is a musical family..that’s why I’ve stayed for twelve years. Their strong point and draw is that they do this high caliber, high art of opera and now art songs, in a way that is completely accessible both in the social aspect of it and the way it is presented but also in the pocketbook. They really do a wonderful job of bringing this incredible music, that’s incredibly difficult, and making it available to everyone.” She also deeply appreciates that director Ketchum is open to things that are new and fresh and haven’t been done before.
“I’m so grateful to Anne Marie and her experience as a contemporary music specialist because she has this incredible respect for the old but at the same time she looks forward into the future. She accepts and invites the new. So she invites someone like me, who might not fit into traditional categories, and invites really different music too, as with the Spanish arts songs we are doing for this performance. As Angelenos, we are so diverse, so having a director who can speak to this diverse community is extremely important.”
For this concert Tran will be accompanying herself for the song cycle “Cinco Canciones Negras” by Xavier Montsalvatge with lyrics by various poets. It is Afro-Cuban in nature and style and Tran says, “it is rarely done and uses poetry that is very pointed.” She will be performing four out of the five songs including “Cuba dentro de un piano” by Rafael Alberti, “Punto de habanera (Siglo XVIII) by Néstor Luján, “Canción de cuna para dormir a un negrito” by Ildefonso Pereda Valdés, and “Canto Negro” by Nicolás Guillén.
Amor y Odio is dedicated to the songs and zarzuelas of Spain and the New World, andfuture Verdi Chorus Presents soirées featuring The Fox Singers will include an evening of Neapolitan favorites and Italian art songs and an evening dedicated to American song. Artistic Director Anne Marie Ketchum says, “I am so excited for these upcoming soirées, which will showcase our exceptional Fox Singers. Finding ourselves immersed in a virtual online world over these past months has inspired me to create new musical experiences unlike anything we have done before. Music is such a vital thing to share with the world during this difficult time. These online concerts also allow us to offer the talents of The Verdi Chorus’ Fox Singers to an even larger audience.” Note these are new works the artists performed live in the studio recently so this is all new content.
Ketchum continues, “These young artists are our most valuable resource. We are not charging a viewing fee for the upcoming online concert, but are asking instead that our audiences consider a personal donation to our newly established Artist Relief Fund. Details are on the Verdi Chorus website, and funds received will be sent exclusively to our wonderful and highly talented musicians.”
The Fox Singers featured in Amor y Odio, Songs of Spain and the New World are: sopranos Tiffany Ho and Sarah Salazar; mezzo-soprano Judy Tran; tenors Joseph Gárate and Elias Berezin; and bass Esteban Rivas. Tune in at https://www.verdichorus.org
On Friday October 23, you can see Judy Tran’s concert/artfilm, “Little Boat on the Ocean”, dedicated to the women of A New Way of Life Reentry Project (ANWOL), which helps women rebuild their lives after prison. The concert features pieces that are literally about the ocean or figuratively express being in solitude amidst chaos. It will be available for viewing on YouTube after the premiere. The event is free but includes a link to give support with 50% of proceeds going directly to ANWOL. Watch here https://youtu.be/664HQzXhJ2g