The Verdi Chorus bears several names. Of course, there’s the Italian composer whose exceptional choral writing gives the group its title and purpose: to present the big ensemble moments in the operatic repertoire as great music in its own right. That mission continues this weekend with two performances — May 14 and 15 at the First Presbyterian Church in Santa Monica — opening the Chorus’s 39th season.
But just under the Verdi banner, there are other names essential to the group’s identity. One is Aurelio de la Vega, the Los Angeles-based composer who was a longtime supporter of the ensemble and who died earlier this year at the age of 96. Saturday and Sunday’s concerts are dedicated to his memory and also mark the start of a new program honoring this composer’s legacy.
The Maestro Aurelio de la Vega Guest Artist Fund will help the Chorus keep up a longstanding practice of inviting star soloists to join the group onstage. It’s a key element of the part professional, part community approach taken by the ensemble, which comprises around 40 amateur members, plus 16 Fox Singers — the other name you’ll hear whenever the Chorus is mentioned. The position, which asks young professionals to act as section leaders and rehearsal coaches, pays tribute to another of the choir’s champions and a former member, Walter Fox.
The diverse group comes together with this weekend’s program, “Hélas mon Coeur” (Alas my heart), which has the Chorus singing not just excerpts from Verdi but plenty of other composers’ music, including the namesake sextet from Jacques Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffman. Soprano Julie Makerov, tenor Todd Wilander, and baritone Roberto Perlas Gómez are the guest soloists for these performances, conducted by Founding Artistic Director Anne Marie Ketchum.