African Christmas: Free Gift!


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 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

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.


Vienna, All Dressed Up For Christmas

This week, I decided to splurge on a little pre-Christmas gift for myself: Vienna.

Every now and then, it’s nice to visit a beautiful city even if I’m not performing there that weekend. So I decided to head to the capital, and I wasn’t disappointed. The Imperial City is all ready for the holiday season, with the most elegant display of Christmas lights along its fashionable boulevards.

Sunday evening, I had the pleasure of seeing Verdi’s Nabucco at the Staatsoper.  The Ukrainian-Russian soprano Maria Guleghina was battling a cold that evening, but she still delivered an impressive performance in the role of Abigaille. When I last heard her sing it in Los Angeles, Ms. Guleghina gave an electrifying rendition, pinning people to their seats with a wall of sound. It was pretty exciting.  But this time, she sang with less wildness and more nuance, letting her voice blossom slowly into creamy high notes and chesty low tones.

The next day, I extended my mini-vacation to include the Naturhistorisches Museum.  If you read my posts about Florence, you know that I am a museum lover; in fact, I “visit” certain works of art whenever I’m in Paris (Winged Nike at the Louvre) or London (the Parthenon Frieze at the British Museum) or Rome (Michelangelo’s Pietà in St Peter’s Basilica). I consider these artworks to be my friends.  Since I was in Vienna, I had to drop by and say hello to the famous Venus of Willendorf, an ancient statue in the shape of a fertility goddess.  Some experts believe that this little 5-inch statue is 24,000 years old! So I checked in with Venus, not because I’m interested in fertility this year, but just because she’s that cool. In fact, the Naturhistorisches Museum is full of cool stuff, including amethyst geodes and dinosaur bones. There are a number of fun exhibits for kids, like a “time machine” that documents continental drift.

All in all, I had a marvelous time in Vienna.  It is a glorious city, steeped in culture and art. The Economist recently hailed Vienna as the city with the highest quality of life in the whole world! No one can deny that it is a great place to be. And yet, when I actually lived in Vienna in 2004, I noticed that the city also has a peculiar kind of heaviness to it.  There are so many old traditions that they can actually weigh you down.  All over the city, there are fantastic neo-classical statues in niches and fountains and columns and archways.  Very often, you will find statues of young men and women (and serpents and griffins and mermaids…) supporting the buildings of Vienna on their backs and shoulders and heads.

But if you’re strong enough to carry the weight of an Empire between your shoulder blades, then Vienna makes an unforgettable Christmas present.  🙂

Advent in Salzburg

Christmastime is one of the most beautiful times of the year to be in Austria.

It’s a lovely place in every season, but Salzburg does Advent especially well!  And that’s because, one day in mid-November, the Christmas market suddenly comes to life!

The Salzburger Christkindlmarkt (Salzburg Christmas Market) has been been open since November 17 and will continue until the day after Christmas.   It’s a little kitschy, but it’s fun! You can walk beneath the golden lights humming German Christmas carols. You can buy some hot roasted chestnuts.  You can even sip a mug of hot spiced wine (Glühwein) as you stroll from booth to booth, admiring handcrafted Christmas ornaments, woolen sweaters, Austrian crystal, baked goods, and all kinds of other wonderful Christmas gifts.

Here is a quick video clip of the marketplace tonight. It’s not my very best cinematography, but I think it will give you a sense of the ambiance:

One of the most fun musical traditions is led by Salzburg’s Tower Brass Band (Salzburger Turmbläser). Every Saturday night in Advent, at exactly 6:30 PM, the sky above Residenzplatz fills with music as the band plays Christmas carols from the rooftops.  Imagine hearing a solo trumpet play the first phrase of Silent Night from one church tower, and then being answered from across the square by a quintet of horns and trombones in another tower.  It’s a magical thing.

Now, if you really need to hear some Christmas carols played by an Austrian brass band, and yet you can’t get all the way to Austria, fear not! The city of Graz also has a tower brass band, and you can download the music of the Grazer Turmbläser on iTunes.

No matter where you are in the world tonight, I wish you a very happy Advent season!