Have you made any plans? Because time passes quickly, and your bicentennial might just sneak up on you.
Giuseppe Verdi is 200 years old TODAY! (Or maybe tomorrow.)
His baptismal certificate is not completely clear. He was either born on October 9, 1813 or on October 10, 1813. Just to be safe, I think we should celebrate all week long.
After all, Verdi was one of the greatest opera composers of all time. He deserves a really fabulous birthday party.
So I have developed my own live show called VERDI HEROINES. It’s quick romp through Verdi’s own dramatic life, punctuated by soprano arias from his best-loved operas. Just yesterday, I got to celebrate Verdi’s 200th birthday by singing “Verdi Heroines” for the South Bay branch of the Music Teacher’s Association of California, where I had the luxury of a very fine accompanist, Tomoko Ariyuki. If you’re in Southern California, please contact me (email@example.com) for more information about how to book my VERDI HEROINES concert for your private event.
So how well do you know your Verdi? Operavore has provided thisVERDI QUIZ to find out. If you were at my show yesterday, I really hope you get a good score.
Of course, there are many ways to celebrate Verdi this week. Gala events are cropping up all over the globe. Here are some ways you can join the party, wherever you are in the world:
New York, NY ~ you can pre-buy tickets for the Met’s new production of Falstaff in December, but if you’re looking for a Verdi party in October, visit The New York Symphonic Arts Ensemble as they join with the Arcadian Chorale of Matawan to present Verdi’s Requiem on October 19.
Sarasota, FL ~ Sarasota Opera has a genuine commitment to Verdi. They want to become the first opera house in the world to perform the complete works of Verdi! And they are on track to finish their Verdi Cycle by 2016. The company that calls itself “Verdi’s American Home” will be hosting a big birthday party on 10/10/13.
Copenhagen, Denmark ~ live stream Verdi’s Requiem from the Danish Radio Concert Hall on 10/13
Milan, Italy ~ Teatro alla Scala: get your tickets herefor Don Carlo or Aida
Vienna, Austria ~ Staatsoper: click here for the Verdi Gala conducted by Daniele Gatti
Pretoria, South Africa ~ Come to a Verdi Gala on 10/11 or 10/13 at Linder Auditorium
Singapore ~ Enjoy a Verdi Gala on the waterfront at Theatres on the Bay, October 24
Buenos Aires, Argentina ~ Order your tix now for Teatro Colón’s December production of Un Ballo in Maschera
Melbourne ~ Attend La Traviata at Monash Uni on Friday night
So what really happened over there? If you were following our hilarious adventures on Nani’s blog, or Bogdan’s blog, or here on the Globetrotting Soprano, then you know that we were never able to post as much as we wanted to post. There were power outages and bandwidth emergencies …. and the day our video footage got stolen by an angry baboon (just kidding) … Anyway, we couldn’t tell you the whole story. But now we can.
PART I: THE VOICES OF BOTSWANA
We came to Botswana to meet this dynamic group of singers:
These talented young opera singers live and work in the capital city of Gaborone. If you’ve read the best-selling detective novels by Alexander McCall Smith, then you already know that Gaborone is a special place. But you may not know that McCall Smith also founded an opera house there! With the help of their coach David Slater, this group of singers had been performing full-scale opera productions at the No. 1 Ladies’ Opera House. In addition to showcasing their vocal talent, these productions were quite original in how they presented opera in the context of Afrocentric themes. But in December 2012, they lost their lease and Botswana’s only opera house had to close its doors.
By establishing the No. 1 Ladies’ Opera Festival, we wanted to bring some momentum back to the opera scene in Gaborone. So we offered master classes in vocal technique, vocal repertoire, opera history, piano technique, acting, stage skills, musicianship, social media and career management. It was a labor-intensive two weeks, both for us and for our students! But we discovered some tremendous voices.
By the end of the festival, our singers were doing some very exciting work. They showcased their talents at a concert in Baobab School Hall. The students who attended all eight classes graduated from the No. 1 Ladies’ Opera Festival. And at the finale of the Maitisong Festival (Botswana’s largest arts festival), they delivered a rousing Brindisi from Verdi’s La Traviata (featuring tenor Boyce Batlang & soprano Tshenolo Batshogile). It sounded like this:
PART II: OUR CONCERT TOUR
We also had a wonderful time making music together.
We presented two full opera recitals in Baobab School Hall, including both the Power Ladies of Opera (a show that Nani and I opened in Los Angeles in February) and The Jewelry Box, a recital featuring some of Bogdan’s virtuosity on the piano, as well as a lot of coloratura pyrotechnics from Nani and myself.
We also gave a guest lecture at the University of Botswana about empowering women through opera. We performed some of our “Power Ladies of Opera” program and facilitated a discussion about gender issues in Botswana, and how European opera relates to the African female experience.
But some of our coolest musical experiences happened at church! I’ve already blogged about the amazing church service where the congregation made my rendition of Mozart’s Alleluia into a call-and-response song! And where dignitaries from all over South Africa (including one Zulu king) came to worship God together in a huge white tent on a sunny Sunday in Rustenberg. Unforgettable.
But I didn’t tell you about our church concerts in Cape Town! Throughout our time in Cape Town, we were hosted by the Global School of Theology. One of my sweetest memories is singing sacred music for a chapel full of energetic theology students. Later that day, we had the chance to sing at a benefit dinner for a recovery program for drug addicts. This successful program is run by Mt Hope Worship Centre in Mitchell’s Plain, South Africa, and they are doing some great work.
Meanwhile, back in Botswana, we got to participate in the closing ceremony of the Maitisong Festival, singing a few arias from Tosca and La Cenerentola before introducing the graduates of the No. 1 Ladies’ Opera Festival. The concert was attended by the United States Ambassador Michelle Gavin. Ambassador Gavin said some very encouraging words that night about the importance of musical and cultural exchange between Botswana and the United States.
We also performed as dancers at the closing ceremony. That’s right! Nani and Bogdan and I sang and danced a Zulu folk song with the famous Witts Choir of South Africa. There is video to prove it. But that footage is far too precious to be released right now. You’ll just have to wait for the official documentary. 😉
PART III: THE CHILDREN WHO MELTED OUR HEARTS
Sadly, AIDS is still a terrible reality in Botswana. There have been great advances in drug therapies, and the government of Botswana is doing a good job with distribution. But that doesn’t solve the whole problem. Some experts estimate that one third of the adult population of Botswana is infected with HIV. And the group most affected by HIV is women between the ages of 25 and 45. So as you can imagine, a lot of young children are losing their mothers.
We decided to create a music workshop for AIDS-affected children (ages 2-6) in Botswana. Many of these precious children have lost their parents to AIDS, and some of them are HIV-positive themselves. But they are full of energy and just bursting with music!
We collaborated with a certified music therapist to design our Joyful Noise! workshop. One morning, we traveled to the village of Kanye to play with 60 children at Kgodisong Centre. And then we spent three mornings at St Peter’s Day Care Centre to work with 76 at-risk pre-schoolers! We wanted to give these precious children a fun-filled week of music games.
Some of our generous donors provided streamers and rhythm toys for the pre-schoolers in Mogoditshane. You should have seen their little faces light up when we gave them their presents.
My sister and her family helped with this part of the festival. (They had spent the previous two weeks doing a special service project for orphans in rural Swaziland!) So my two nieces, ages 11 and 6, helped us play musical games with the Tswana children. That was a special joy for me to see!!
Meanwhile, my mom was conducting some exciting academic research towards her master’s degree. As Vice President of Clubs & Mentoring at Royal Family KIDS, she directs a mentoring program for abused and abandoned children in the United States. While in Botswana, Mom arranged and facilitated a panel discussion with several African church leaders, authors and experts on the subject of “Church Response in Botswana to Children & Families Affected by HIV/AIDS.” She returned with some very interesting findings about the kinship care model of foster care.
I’ve already blogged about Jackson’s Ridge, a beautiful campground in eastern South Africa dedicated to serving disadvantaged children. It’s the kind of place where you wake up in the morning to the sound of monkeys dancing on the roof of your cabin – pure fun. We met with Royal Family KIDS leaders at Jackson’s Ridge to discuss launch a mentoring club for abused children in South Africa in 2014!
And we were able to make a very special donation towards a program called Jway Children’s Ministry. They train local churches in ‘child friendly’ outreach and education (40% of Africa’s population is under age 15), using puppets and magic shows to entertain kids from all backgrounds. When you’ve met these kids, you just long to bring joy to their little hearts. So we decided to donate our last money from the festival towards… a bounce house!
PART IV: THE BEAUTY WE CAN’T FORGET
Yes, we went on safari. How could we not?? We spent three days in Kruger National Park (South Africa). Here are some of our animal friends:
And the beauty of Cape Town deserves its own post, but I’ll tease you with a few images:
This wonderful trip would not have been possible without the support of so many wonderful people. We want to thank David Slater, our chief musical collaborator in Gaborone! And Gao Lemmenyane, the director of the Maitisong Festival. Our sponsors: Association of Performing Arts Presenters, Water’s Edge Church, First Presbyterian Church of San Pedro, and Empower International Ministries. Our dear friend Karen Torjesen at Claremont Graduate University. And Professor David Kerr at the University of Botswana. And all of our singers… and all of the pre-school kids! Thanks to our dear friends Father Andrew and Gladys Mudereri at St Peter’s Day Care Centre. Also, our best buddies Charmaine and Donovan Manuel with J-WAY, and Neville and Gail Fannin with Royal Family KIDS at Jackson’s Ridge. And finally a big shout out to YOU, our faithful readers and supporters!!!
We are in the process of making a documentary about the festival. Our brilliant videographer CAROLYN RAFFERTY got the whole thing on tape. So we have our footage already, but editing costs money. So there will be a Kickstarter campaign next month. Please consider donating. The world needs to hear the beautiful voices of Botswana! Thank you.
The vocal talent in Botswana is simply phenomenal. For someone who craves the sound of rich and resonant voices, Gaborone is like a candy shop.
As you can imagine, the master classes that we are teaching are just as much fun for us as they are for our students! Our young singers are very modest and unassuming; sometimes, they are so shy that it is hard to coax them to sing. But when they open their mouths, the music just pours out of them! More than a few times, Nani and Bogdan and I have been left a little breathless by the quality of the sounds we hear.
We have even met a few voices that (if they get the proper training) might someday sing in the great opera houses of the world. But like all young opera singers, they need rigorous training in order to make that dream a reality. And it is hard to get the necessary education in a country without a single music conservatory. Despite the enthusiasm of the singers themselves, Botswana’s audience for classical singing is still fairly small.
On Wednesday evening, we opened the No. 1 Ladies’ Opera Festival with a concert on the theme of “powerful women in opera.” Four dozen classical music lovers filed into Baobab School Hall, curious to hear an opera concert in Gaborone. There has been no opera here since December, when the No. 1 Ladies’ Opera House was forced to close because they lost their lease.
With Bogdan at the piano, Nani and I sang some of the great operatic showstoppers by Mozart, Bellini, Rossini, Bizet, Verdi and Wagner. And it was a success! At the reception that followed the concert, the audience showered us with compliments, calling the show “spectacular” and “immensely enjoyable.” We heard so many kind words from local music teachers, music enthusiasts, tourists, and even from a representative of the United States Embassy! We felt honored to be able to perform for such an appreciative public.
But that was just the beginning. After the reception, we invited the young opera singers back into the theater, where I taught a master class in vocal technique. The students were brimming with energy: they studied my powerpoint slides about the lungs and the vocal cords, and they listened carefully to my sound clips of great singers, and they immediately integrated my vocal exercises for breathing and support.
Then, one by one, they came up to the front and sang for us. Many of them actually seemed quite nervous about this, but with the support of their friends, they gathered enough courage to come forward. They tentatively handed Bogdan their music and introduced themselves. Some of them were so shy that they actually hid their faces behind their hands. But then they blew us away with soulful renditions of “Un bel di vedremo” and “Nessun dorma!” It was the most amazing experience.
The very next night, they all returned to hear Nani’s master class on acting and audition skills (and vocal technique, too!). For me, it was such a joy to sit back and watch Nani teach – it is just so gratifying to watch her give these singers the tools they need to improve. And I can’t wait to see Bogdan’s master class on Tuesday! These students are so hungry to know more about singing.
Then last night, I gave a short presentation on the history of opera, and challenged them to think about Botswana’s place in the FUTURE of opera. They smiled thoughtfully, and then they went right back to work, singing their hearts out.
Our evening workshops will continue all next week, hosted by David Slater at his studio. Mr. Slater is both a conductor and a masterful voice teacher, but like his students, he is incredibly humble. It is quite evident that he has already taught his singers a great deal about technique, phrasing, languages, librettos, and the architecture of sound. But if you ask him, he will tell you that his students’ impressive sound is primarily due to their own “lovely voices” and “raw talent.”
We are hoping that our festival will bring some national and international attention to these marvelous singers. We will be featuring these voices in YouTube clips. There are some Tswana voices that you will want to hear.
My music team is more than a little excited. Our flight to Johannesburg (via Amsterdam) departs in just a few short hours.
We can’t wait to experience the sights and sounds of Southern Africa. And we’re especially excited to meet the singers of the No. 1 Ladies’ Opera House in Gaborone, Botswana. We’ll also have the chance to share our music with some AIDS-affected kids. And we’ll be visiting some friends along the way.
Stay tuned for photos, stories, audio and video clips of our adventures!
Where can you find these updates on our progress? Right here! This is where I’ll be posting my news. And if you’re still hungry for more festival news, read Nani’s updates and Bogdan’s updates!
Santuzza is a bit of a drama queen, but she’s so much fun to sing!
That’s why I’m thrilled that I get to sing the role of Santuzza in Pietro Mascagni’s dramatic one-act opera, Cavalleria Rusticana.
For those of you who don’t know Cav, the music is glorious. It’s sixty minutes of sheer Sicilian heartbreak, but at least we serve free brownies afterwards! Seriously, it’s a great show.
For its grand opening, San Pedro Opera has launched this production as a fundraiser for the upcoming No. 1 Ladies’ Opera Festival in Botswana. Going to this local performance in Los Angeles supports young musicians in Southern Africa!
Here’s our video trailer:
The show opened in San Pedro last weekend to great success, but you can still catch in in Claremont on Saturday! You can buy your tickets right here. I feel very privileged to work with a wonderful ensemble of singers:
It was a warm, humid Thursday in Vienna and I was having a stressful day. I rushed onto a subway train (the U-3 line) and absent-mindedly picked up a glossy magazine. As I slid into the nearest plastic seat, a magazine insert fell into my lap. There was a picture of two little ears carrying suitcases and jumping off a railroad track. The German text above the picture read, “Schicken Sie Ihre Ohren auf Entdeckungsreise.” Send your ears on a journey of discovery. And for the first time all day, I started to smile.
The tiny ears were advertising the Haus der Musik museum in Vienna, but for me, the message had a different meaning. The reason I was feeling stressed that day was because I needed to decide whether or not to move to Italy for a post-grad certificate in opera studies. (I know that sounds like an easy decision, but it was complicated.) After completing two performance degrees in voice, I just wasn’t sure if I wanted to embark on yet another academic journey. Did I want to stay in school? Part of me just wanted to get onstage that very instant and SING!
But every budding opera singer has a unique path to follow, and my path included several years of intensive ear-education! By studying in Salzburg, I had already absorbed a distinctly Austrian Klangvorstellung (concept of sound). Moving to Italy helped me listen to music with a more Mediterranean worldview, and that was a good challenge for my German-American ears. It influenced my music forever.
Being a musician has changed the way that I travel. Ever since that moment on the U-3, every little trip has become a journey of discovery. My ears are always getting new stamps in their passport. They were happy to soak up Slavic sounds in Moscow and Hindustani vibrations in Kathmandu. And now as I prepare to spend April in Southern Africa, my ears are already tingling with… READ MORE
In April, I’ll be launching an opera festival in the heart of Botswana. That’s my new year’s resolution for 2013! But organizing a festival takes a lot of mental energy. I think about it constantly. I talk about it. I even dream about it. I have Botswana on the brain, and I haven’t even been there yet.
The No. 1 Ladies’ Opera Festivalwas inspired by a talented group of opera singers in Gaborone, Botswana. These dynamic singers are doing exciting work and producing some very original opera. But it’s hard to sustain an opera company in Southern Africa, and due to financial problems, they have just lost their opera house.
Our festival will put these singers back in the spotlight, performing opera scenes on the biggest stages of Gaborone! Along with my team (the award-winning pianist, Bogdan Dulu, and the star mezzo-soprano Nandani Maria Sinha), I will be performing concerts and teaching workshops for the singers. The goal of the festival is to equip and inspire emerging artists in Southern Africa while bringing attention to women’s issues through musical performance. We are also hoping to make a movie about the project, to help these singers get more international attention. If you would like to click here and make a small donation, we would be so grateful. (Please write ‘No 1 Ladies’ Opera Festival’ in the designation field.)
We will also have the privilege of working with some AIDS orphans in Gaborone, and giving them a music workshop. This was an unexpected opportunity that suddenly presented itself a few weeks ago. One of the most important things that I learned in 2012 is that it’s impossible to predict how things are going to happen! Things just don’t go according to plan. It’s hard for overachievers to accept, but there are circumstances beyond our control. And that’s not such a bad thing.
For example, one of my biggest struggles… READ MORE
I am delighted to announce that Nandani Maria Sinha and Douglas Sumi are joining me on the concert stage in Altadena, California on February 10th! This is a benefit concert for theNo. 1 Ladies’ Opera Festival! And this is going to be a wildly fun concert, my friends. It’s actually a preview of another concert we’ll be giving in Gaborone, Botswana on April 10th, so if you’re closer to Altadena than Gaborone, come to this one! 😉
Happy New Year, my globetrotting operatic friends!
This year, the music world will celebrate the 200th birthdays of both Richard Wagner and Giuseppe Verdi.
What a year for opera!
(Image courtesy of The Wagnerian, a fantastic site for Wagner fans.)
If you’d like to see Wagner’s Ring Cycle in 2013, there is a production for every month of year, so you can decide whether you’d like to see it in Darmstadt, Munich, Frankfurt, Berlin, Karlsruhe, New York, Vienna, Hamburg, Sofia, Paris, Seattle or Melbourne!
If you’re in New York, you can catch five sumptuous Verdi operas at the Met this season: Don Carlo, Otello, Rigoletto, La Traviata and Il Trovatore!
And if you’re here in Los Angeles, you’ve probably already seen Verdi’s I Due Foscari, and now it’s time to book your tickets for Wagner’s Flying Dutchman at LA Opera. If you like big-opera-on-a-small-budget, check out San Pedro Opera; the season begins with Cavalleria Rusticana (it’s Pietro Mascagni’s 150th birthday, too) but the word on the street is that SPO will have some Wagner and Verdi galas later this year.
Of course, there is one MORE reason why 2013 is going to be awesome, and that’s because it’s the first year of the No. 1 Ladies’ Opera Festival in Botswana! If you’re planning to be in Southern Africa in April, stop by Gaborone to hear us. We’ll sing some scenes from Wagner and Verdi operas, among others.
Wherever you find yourself this year, be sure to stroll past the local opera house to see what’s going on. You might just catch Aida in St Petersburg, Un Ballo in Maschera in Buenos Aires, or Tannhäuser in Tokyo! It’s going to be a great year.