the Voices of Botswana

botsicons_bots2_tshenolobatshogileThere are some sounds that knock you sideways.

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 5JmTMIconcert 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.

DSCN0885But 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 DSCN0889support 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 DSCN0914and 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.

Meanwhile, be sure to check out Bogdan’s blog and Nani’s blog for more about our exciting adventures in Botswana!

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Into Africa

images-1And we’re off!

After eleven months of planning, the NO. 1 LADIES’ OPERA FESTIVAL is about to begin.

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!

And of course, you can join our festival Facebook page!

Are you ready? It’s time to get launched!

African Christmas: Free Gift!

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Need a last minute Christmas present?

How about making a donation to the No. 1 Ladies’ Opera Festival on behalf of a friend?

Your friend will receive a holiday email saying, “A donation has been made in your name to the No. 1 Ladies’ Opera Festival, helping young African musicians to make their dreams come true.”

You even get to choose how we spend the money! Here are a few gift options:

Opera Workshop for Young Professionals – the singers of No. 1 Ladies’ Opera House have extraordinary talent, but they need help getting to the next level. Our team of artists will be offering workshops and master classes, sharing everything we know about vocal technique, stagecraft and opera repertoire. And then we’ll perform opera together all over the capital of Botswana! Please help us fund this program and rent the best stages in Gaborone.

Documentary – these young African opera singers are doing something incredible, but no one knows about it. We want to broadcast their music across the world. Will you help us tell their story in film? Any amount helps!

Music Therapy for AIDS Orphans – we will be offering a 5-day music workshop for kids in Gaborone, Botswana, in collaboration with Churches United Against HIV & AIDS. Most of these kids have lost their parents to AIDS. Will you help us give these precious children a week of musical fun? We’re teaching the program for free but we need money for space rental, supplies and musical instruments.

Plane Tickets – the musicians already have tickets, but we need YOUR help to get our film crew to Africa!  Could you contribute $100? Or donate frequent flyer miles? This is my Christmas wish. 🙂

Lodging – once we’re there, we’ll need a place to stay. $40/day buys us each a bed at the lodge!

Namibia Concert – we have been invited to give a special concert in Windhoek, Namibia but we need some money for travel if we want to make it happen.

So how does it work? Just use this Network for Good Badge (be sure to write “No 1 Ladies Opera Festival” in the designation field.) OR donate through the festival website . Then email me at lindsay@lindsayfeldmeth.com with your friend’s name and email address.

FREE CHRISTMAS GIFT with any donation of at least $25: If you donate at least $25, and email me before 8 PM (PST) on December 26 2012, I will make an original recording of myself singing your favorite Christmas carol in mP3 form and send it to you!!! Just send the song title to lindsay@lindsayfeldmeth.com

If you prefer to pay with a personal check, it can be made out to Claremont Graduate University. Please mention No. 1 Ladies’ Opera Festival in the memo line, and mail to: David Carpenter, Senior Director of Development, Claremont Graduate University, 165 E. 10th St., Claremont, CA 91711

Help some talented artists on the other side of the world… make this Christmas an African Christmas!

This project is generously sponsored by the Association of Performing Arts Presenters and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and endorsed by Claremont Graduate School, the Global Women’s Research Institute, the No. 1 Ladies’ Opera House, Maitisong Festival, David Slater Music, Cadenza Artists, and San Pedro Opera.