April in Africa

922941_10151630156587792_29381106_nSometimes it’s hard to believe that it really happened.

The whole experience was so overwhelming that it took me a long time to even post about it. But here at last is a summary of this amazing, beautiful thing we got to do.

These are the highlights of our enchanted April in Southern Africa, where we launched the No. 1 Ladies’ Opera Festival.

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:

DSCN0918These 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.Hm70SM

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 TOURDSCN1073_2

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.

QSeML0_2But 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.chapel 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.DSCN1665

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

DSCN1206_2Sadly, 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!DSCN1197

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.

DSCN1369Some 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!!DSCN1364

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.  DSCN1260While 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!images

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:

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And the beauty of Cape Town deserves its own post, but I’ll tease you with a few images:

IMG_4731IMG_4727IMG_4785This 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.IMG_1255

Our Little Tswana Singers

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When I close my eyes, I can still see their little faces.

It was hard to tear myself away from St. Peter’s Anglican Day Care Centre this morning, after three days of leading music workshops for AIDS affected pre-schoolers.

They waved good-bye as we pulled out of the lot, still clutching the stickers and candy we had given them.

Thanks to some generous donors, we were also able to give the children dozens of new music toys (claves, jingles, triangles, tiny cymbals, rhythm sticks, resonator bells, and colorful streamers for dancing).  The kids were thrilled with their new instruments. When we have a faster internet connection, I’ll upload a video of the St. Peter’s Pre-School Band!  (YES, Carolyn got it all on film!) These kids really know how to make a joyful noise!

Earlier in the week, we also got to visit a very special pre-school in the village of Kanye.  We sang praise songs with them, and played Vivaldi for them, and taught them to dance the hokey-pokey.  They loved it.sing

So we taught master classes (for adults) in the evening, but we spent our mornings singing and dancing with children between the ages of 2 and 6 years old!

Both pre-schools are specifically for children who are affected by AIDS. Botswana has the second highest HIV infection rate in the world (behind Swaziland), and more than one-third of the adult population is HIV positive. There are sixty-four kids at the school in Kanye and seventy-six kids at the centre Gaborone, so we played with 140 pre-schoolers this week!

Some of these little ones are HIV+, and others have parents who are sick (or have already passed away).  And some of the children are not directly involved with AIDS, but they have been victims of abuse or neglect. They are all hungry for love and attention.  And they all love to sing and dance!

Once again, I was so proud of my team.  Nani and I kept the kids busy with all kinds of (highly active!) music games.  Nani is an inspired teacher, and Bogdan was very creative with his spontaneous accompaniment to all of our songs! (There was no keyboard in Kanye, but he got to play an upright piano at St Peters, and he also hammered out a mean boogie-woogie on the resonator bells.)

I also had a lot of support from my family! My sister and brother-in-law and their two daughters drove up to Botswana on Tuesday, after completing a service project in Swaziland.  They came to help with the music workshops at the pre-school, and I was so excited to have them with us!

You should have seen the Tswana kids’ faces when they saw my two nieces (ages 6 and 11) come into their classroom.  It’s an amazing thing to watch kids from vastly different cultures trading their favorite songs and dances.  Such fun!

My mom helped coordinate the entire effort at both pre-schools. She located both facilities, and she interviewed several local experts on AIDS, because she is currently researching the response of the African Church to the orphan crisis. We met several people who inspired us – they are passionate about caring for at-risk kids, and they have dedicated their lives to serving these precious little ones.

By the end of the week, the kids were clinging to us like Velcro! We were getting innendated with hugs.  But it was wonderful, because they are adorable and huggable kids.  We’ll miss them.

Meanwhile, we have had many other adventures here in Botswana, and I just haven’t had time to tell you all of the wonderful (and crazy) things that have happened to us. So once again, I will direct you to Nani’s blog and Bogdan’s blog because they’re both touching and hilarious.

Please stay tuned for more news about our final concerts!  I just can’t believe the No. 1 Ladies’ Opera festival is almost over.  It’s been unforgettable.

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!

Oh, Santuzza!

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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:

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See you at the opera. 🙂

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Botswana on My Mind

botswanaI’ve started to dream about Africa.

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 Festival was 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

Full post at icadenza.comicadenza-logo-for-web-e1329790251359

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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The No. 1 Ladies’ Opera Festival

I have never been to Africa. But that’s about to change.

In April, I’ll be heading to Botswana to launch the No. 1 Ladies Opera Festival!

If that title sounds familiar, then you have probably read the best-selling mystery series about the No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith.  Or maybe you caught the brilliant HBO series by the same name, with superstar Jill Scott in the role of Precious Ramotswe, the best detective in Botswana.

But you may not be aware that Alexander McCall Smith also founded an opera house in Botswana’s capital city, Gaborone, called the No. 1 Ladies’ Opera House.  He established the opera house together with his friend David Slater, a marvelous musician who has been at the center of Gaborone’s classical music scene for more than thirty years. They assembled some talented singers and began to sell tickets.

My connection to Botswana is through my friend Karen Torjesen, professor of Women’s Studies at Claremont Graduate School, who is also a frequent guest professor at the University of Botswana.  One day last year,  Karen was filling out paperwork at the university when she suddenly heard a beautiful soprano voice singing classical music! It turned out that the young woman handling Karen’s work permit was an opera singer, a student of David Slater’s. Karen told her about the workshops I teach for young professional singers and my recent festival in Nepal. The young soprano was delighted, and several e-mails later, I was asking David Slater if his singers would like to have their own opera festival. He said yes.
And that’s how the No. 1 Ladies’ Opera Festival was born.

Over the next few months, this captivating little idea began to gain momentum with breathtaking speed. I was delighted when the award-winning pianist Bogdan Dulu accepted my invitation to perform with me in Gaborone. And then the fabulous mezzo-soprano Nandani Maria Sinha told me she was available to go to Africa, as well! In fact, we are planning to give concerts on the theme of “Powerful Women in Opera” in Namibia and South Africa as well as Botswana! We will also teach workshops for the singers in Gaborone, and organize some exciting concerts for them.

So the festival will feature performances by both local and international artists, as well as workshops in vocal technique and operatic repertoire.  It will culminate in an energetic closing ceremony including both classical and traditional music. By a happy coincidence, we will be there at the time of the Maitisong Festival, Botswana’s largest arts festival, so we’ll get to experience Southern African music like never before!

And we’ll get it all on film. I’ve asked the filmmaker Heidi Burkey to create a special documentary about this festival.  These young singers are already following their dream of being professional opera singers, but they face enormous odds.  It is hard to sustain an opera career in any part of the world, but it’s even harder in Botswana, and it would be so easy for these talented artists to feel isolated and discouraged. So we want to help them use media channels to gain real traction for their careers. We’ll be spreading their music across the world.

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 also hope to cultivate sustainable funding sources for local arts programs in Botswana. We are thrilled to collaborate with Claremont Graduate School, David Slater Music, the No. 1 Ladies’ Opera House and the Maitisong Festival to create an exciting new cultural event in Gaborone.

To raise money for this exciting event, I’ll be organizing a series of benefit concerts and one complete opera production in Los Angeles, so stay tuned for more details! In future blog posts, I’ll tell you even more about this wonderful group of singers in Botswana.

We do need help to fund this festival, so if you are able to make a donation, please donate here.  Every little bit helps!  Let’s make this happen.