Benefit Concert for Botswana

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 the No. 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! 😉

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Bicentennial Bliss (why 2013 is going to be awesome)

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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.

Irish Dance Revolution

These are not my feet.

The stepdancer pictured here is far more advanced than I am! But I began taking lessons at the Lyons Academy of Irish Dance back in February, and I love it.

Best. Hobby. Ever.

The popularity of Irish Dance has exploded over the past fifteen years. Of course, the Irish have been dancing jigs for centuries. But in the mid-1990s, Michael Flatley brought global attention to the art form with his mesmerizing sell-out performances of Riverdance and Lord of the Dance. American kids flocked to stepdancing classes, finding a fun alternative to gymnastics or ballet.  And Irish Dance has its own vibrant subculture, with young students dancing at Celtic fairs all over Europe and North America.

So when my sister suggested that we sign up for an adult beginners class, I thought it sounded like a good idea.  I knew that I wouldn’t have enough time to train for another triathlon this year, so I needed a new physical goal.  And what could be more fun than dancing jigs with my sister while listening to fiddles, accordions and bagpipes? (Contrary to common belief, I don’t only listen to opera… well, ok, I do listen to a lot of opera. But not exclusively.)

Still, it was just a fun thing to do on Wednesday nights. Never in my wildest dreams did I think that we would actually compete at a feis (Irish dance competition) this year. But that’s what happened.  I blame it on our teacher, dance champion Meredith Lyons, because she is an amazing teacher.  She encouraged us to go for the gold… and in fact, I came home from the Long Beach Halloween Feis with three gold medals and two silvers! (Full disclosure: there were only a dozen people in the adult beginners category.)  I had so much fun.

Irish dancers use two kinds of shoes: soft shoes (or ghillies) and hard shoes. There are four traditional soft shoe dances: the reel, light jig, slip jig, and single jig. The difference between the dances has to do with the time signature of the music. Reels are in 4/4 time, but light and single jigs are in 6/8, and slip jigs are in 9/8. There are also a variety of hard shoe dances: the hornpipe (syncopated 2/4 or 4/4), as well as the treble jig, the treble reel and traditional set dances.

So if you need a lift, I recommend Irish Dance. It’s great exercise and it’s guaranteed to improve your mood. After all, it’s hard not to grin when you’re dancing a jig.  Just stepdance your cares away! But I warn you: it’s addictive.

Meet the Artist

I had the chance to sing on “Meet the Artist” yesterday!

What a pleasure to meet Dina Kuznetsova, and to perform alongside Danielle Marcelle Bond and Armen Guzelimian. We talked about some exciting events coming up for the New West Symphony.  The show was broadcast on Thousand Oaks TV on November 1, 2012, but you can see it right here:

If you’d like to vote for my SymphoNet submission, just click THIS LINK and press “like” on YouTube.  Thanks so much!

Cruising with Mickey Mouse

What could be better than sailing the high seas on a luxurious cruise with… your favorite cartoon mouse?

Last week, I enjoyed a dream  vacation aboard the Disney Wonder, cruising from Vancouver to San Francisco to Los Angeles.

This fantastic trip was completely unexpected. It all began a few weeks ago, when I got a phone call from my talented friend, Tiffany Sparks-Keeney. Tiffany and I are friends from way back, and her expert knowledge of kinesiology (and its impact on singing opera) will be the subject of many blog posts to come. But she wasn’t calling about work; she was asking me if I wanted to join her (and her adorable 9-month-old baby) on a 7-day cruise.  It took me about 3 seconds to say, “YES, PLEASE!”

This was my first cruise and I have to say that it was nothing short of amazing. There were three (yes, three!) swimming pools on the top deck. Because this was a Disney cruise, the entertainment was top notch. The cast and crew were fantastic, and we were treated like royalty the entire time. In seven short days, I got used to having delicious food and relaxing spa treatments. When it was finally time to disembark, I didn’t want to leave!

Sadly, there were no scheduled opera performances.  But on our final night, I got up on stage and sang “Vissi d’arte” to a very appreciative audience — I guess nobody expected Tosca to show up on a Disney cruise! 😉

I especially enjoyed the international flair of the cruise.  More than 50% of the guests were Canadian, but the crew came from all over the world. I had a chance to chat with new friends in German, Italian, French and Nepali. (I only remember a few phrases in Nepali, but I was able to use them all!)

Since I do a lot of my “globetrotting” for work, it was especially nice to have a relaxing vacation with a good friend.  Thank you, Tiffany! It was magical.

Outdoor Opera

Opera doesn’t only happen in opera houses.

Don’t get me wrong — I love opera houses.  When I lived in Italy, I embarked upon my own personal “Opera House Tour,” visiting famous opera houses from Milan to Palermo. I have nothing against sweeping staircases, painted ceilings, gilded ornamentation, glittering chandeliers and plush velvet seats. The acoustics in many opera houses are wonderful. And there is a special joy in singing to a house full of opera lovers!

But opera is a thriving and dynamic art form; it cannot be contained! People are singing opera everywhere these days: on lakes, in parking garages, and in Swedish living rooms. Travis Pratt even sings Rossini in elevators.

Personally, I love to sing outdoors. Some of my favorite concerts have been outside: on a Hawaiian beach, in a friend’s backyard, in the middle of the Sequoia National Forest, and in the courtyard of an ancient museum in Nepal.  I occasionally sing while kayaking and parasailing.

For me, there is something thrilling about singing to the ocean.  Last week, I went beach camping with my family near Santa Barbara.  It was a wonderful vacation, but I didn’t really have anywhere to sing.  So one afternoon, I hiked up on a a little cliff and sang Gershwin to the sea: “Summertime, and the livin’ is easy…” It felt great to sing in the open air.  And at the end of my aria, I was rewarded with applause from the beach below! My audience consisted of 1 snorkeler, 2 kayakers,  a few hikers, and several seagulls.  Spontaneous concerts can be fun.

Opera is everywhere. 🙂

Running Home

Do you like to run? How would you feel about running from Canada to Mexico?

Meet Norma Bastidas, ultra-marathoner and mother of two, who is running 2600 miles to raise awareness about violence and domestic abuse.

Norma left Vancouver on April 21st, and she ran past my house in Los Angeles two weeks ago. Today, she’s running through the Sonora Desert and she plans to arrive in her hometown of Mazatlan, Mexico on the 8th of July! You can follow her journey at: Running Home, A Journey to End Violence.

I am always inspired by people who do “impossible” things, so I felt very privileged to meet Norma. Her athletic career is nothing short of amazing: she has run ultra-marathons on all 7 continents and she’s also an accomplished mountaineer. She has run on all kinds of terrain, from the sands of Namibia to the ice of Antarctica. (How do you top that?)

But this journey is special.  “I wanted to do something really hard,” she told me. “And I believe in what I’m doing.”  She wants to put an end to violence.  Does that seem impossible?  Remember that this woman is running all the way from Canada to Mexico. There isn’t much that seems impossible to Norma.

When I heard she was coming to my house, I made sure to get her some fuel: multi-vitamins, L-glutamines, and lots of pasta! She was grateful for the dinner, but she was almost too excited to eat. Instead of focusing on her own amazing story, Norma kept asking me about my projects. She wanted to hear about my festival in Nepal, and my dreams of singing in Africa. She asked how I was using my music to inspire people.

Sitting on my couch on the 9th of June, Norma was absolutely glowing with happiness. (No one should look that beautiful after running every day for two months!) She couldn’t wait to tell me about her mission.

“Every time you decide to push the limits of what you think is possible, they get a little further,” she said. “But you have to be smart about it.   You don’t want to put yourself in danger for no reason. So I always ask myself: am I afraid because it’s really dangerous, or am I just afraid to fail? If it’s just my ego talking, that’s not a good enough reason not to try.”

I think she’s right.  It’s important to take risks sometimes. It’s not about winning a trophy or “being the best.”  It’s about pouring your life into something that matters.

You might not be able to run sixty miles in a day like Norma Bastidas.  But isn’t there something you’ve been wanting to do? Some dream you have given up because it feels impossible?

Michelangelo wrote, “the greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it.”

So where is your next “finish line?” Maybe you could go just a little bit farther? Re-think your own boundaries. Push the limits of possible.

Soprano in NorCal

Watch out — I just showered some high notes on Northern California!

I was invited up north for a couple of auditions. Auditioning is a funny thing. A typical opera audition only lasts about 10 minutes.

That’s enough time to sing two or three arias, and have a quick chat with the casting director. Opera singers will often travel for days to get their 10 minutes onstage!

And we plan our audition tours very carefully to ensure that we will have “a good ten minutes.”  We eat well, we sleep well, we save our energy, we warm up our voices and we focus our minds… all so that we can be dazzling when we step into the spotlight.

But what happens when the audition is over?  That’s when it’s time to relax and have fun! Whenever I audition in a new city, I just love to go exploring. So without further ado, here are my latest travel tips:

Sacramento

* California State Capitol Museum – Inside the magnificent capitol building, you can take a 45-minute tour emphasizing Californian history and politics. Unfortunately, there is no coatroom where you can leave your luggage, so I had to drag my little pink suitcase through the entire State Legislature, into the Senate, through the Assembly, up into the cupola, down into the basement, past the Governor’s office, and out into the gardens. But I had a great time.

* Old Sacramento – This historic part of town has an Old West atmosphere. There are several Gold Rush exhibits nearby; in fact, this would have been a better setting for the ill-fated Gold Rush tour that I took in San Francisco in January.

* Sacramento International Airport – Don’t ask me why there is a huge red rabbit suspended from the ceiling of the Sacramento Airport. It’s artistic, and it’s fun, and that’s good enough for me. In fact, there are a lot of fun surprises in Terminal B, including WI-FI lounges and a massage bar.  If you want a bite to eat, I can recommend the Gateway Bar, which features cushioned sofas, a selection of California wines, and a really amazing Greek sandwich (the “Icon,” a heavenly combination of gyro meat, lamb gravy, and tzatziki).

San Jose

* San Jose Museum of Art – if you like contemporary art, you’ll love this colorful collection.  And if you simply need to take a break, you can sit beneath the palm trees in the outdoor plaza, or visit the museum shop and café inside.

* Extended Stay Deluxe Hotel (San Jose) –  My suite included a kitchen, a desk, a queen-sized bed, a sofa, a TV, and a washroom with a full bathtub. I also had access to the swimming pool, the jacuzzi, the fitness room (mostly cardio, no free weights),  and free ensuite high-speed internet. The hotel has plenty of parking, and is located just one mile from the airport and two blocks from the nearest light-rail station. The Bay Area isn’t cheap, and it can be tough to find affordable accommodations in a town where it costs $15 just to open the door of a taxi cab!  But this hotel fit neatly into my travel budget.

Norman Mineta San Jose International Airport deserves a shout-out from the Globetrotting Soprano because it is the only airport I have ever seen that has live piano music in the baggage claim area! That’s pretty impressive in and of itself.

And that’s all for today. Have a great weekend!

the Parasailing Soprano

Have you ever tried to sing while flying over the ocean?

Last July, I  wanted to do something special for my birthday.

So I convinced my friends to go parasailing!  The perfect California adventure.

Flying was my childhood fantasy.  I always longed for the freedom of flight, without the help of an airplane. What could be better than the sensation of gliding effortlessly through the air?

The sensation of falling is not quite so much fun, which is why skydiving has never interested me.  Hang gliding would be an option, but it requires some real training. Parasailing, on the other hand, requires no particular skills. The desire to fly is enough!

We all felt giddy as we launched our boat from Balboa Pier.  This was really happening! Our guides from Catalina Parasail had given us some serious life preservers. Sitting on the edge of the boat, strapped into a harness with two of my friends, I had a brief moment of “flight fright.”

But the fear disappeared as soon as the parachute lifted us up into the air.   The sensation of flying was so much more gentle than I had expected it to be! It was almost hypnotic. Twelve hundred feet in the air, we glided peacefully (and noiselessly) above the water. We also had a panoramic view of Newport Beach.  It was breathtaking.

On our way back down, the guides thought it would be funny to dunk us in the ocean before bringing us back to the boat.  This came as a surprise! Swooping down into the water like a pelican, I felt like I was hugging the Pacific. It was one of the best moments of the trip.

We finally landed back on the boat with a little thud.  It was time to compare notes with our other friends. “Did you sing up there?” one of them asked.  “Oh no!” I exclaimed. “I forgot!  I yelped some high notes when we first launched, but they were unintentional.”

To make room for the next group of parasailors, we transferred into a smaller boat. But as we made our way back into the harbor, the outboard motor died. And while we were waiting to get ‘rescued’ by a dinghy, the conversation turned to opera. Our guide mentioned that he really likes the Ride of the Valkyries.

My friends happily explained that they had brought an opera singer along. They asked me to sing Brünnhilde’s Battle Cry as entertainment while we waited.  My high C’s bounced off the surface of the water.  We saw some people on the shoreline spin around in confusion. Because of the accoustics of water, it was hard for them to tell where the sound was coming from.  We all laughed together, imagining a new staging of the Ring Cycle where the valkyries arrive on parasails instead of stallions.

I love to sing while I’m out in nature.  It gives me a feeling of pure freedom. And I really like that feeling. It’s why I still chase my wildest dreams, like flying.

All in all, it was a perfect day: fun, friends, and parasailing! I even got to sing on the water.  I have not yet planned my next birthday adventure, but I welcome your suggestions!