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September 14, 2010

Baltimore Symphony staffer among those heading to Australia courtesy of Oprah

Sarah Haller, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's PR and publications coordinator, might not think about asking for leave from her job in December, what with the rush of the annual Holiday Spectacular and all. But, heck, how often do you get invited by Oprah Winfrey to take an expenses-paid trip to Australia for 10 days -- with John Travolta flying the plane?

Haller and her mom were in Oprah's TV studio last week, expecting a fun time to be sure at the taping of the super-host's show (it aired Monday), but not something of this magnitude. "My mom was selected as one of Oprah's 'ultimate viewers' and I went with her to Chicago," says Haller, 27, a highly effective member of the BSO's staff, as we press-types can attest. "We were just members of the audience, and we got this awesome prize."

As you've no doubt heard, all 300 people in attendance that day will receive the trip, just another of Oprah's simple little gestures of appreciation for her lucky fans. "Everyone started flipping out when we realized what was happening," Haller says. "I really didn't hear too much of what was being said. I was too busy screaming."

The lucky folks will

leave Dec. 5 from Los Angeles, returning on the 15th. "I promised [the BSO] that I''ll do everything I need to before leaving so they won't be stuck. It's really a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity." Free airfare from Baltimore for Haller and her mother is included in the prize. "And Oprah's even going to help everyone pay the difference on the taxes for the trip so that won't be a burden on us," says Haller, a Baltimore native.

Although Haller's mother earned the attention of Oprah's people with her "ultimate viewer" entry (she has been watching since Oprah's Baltimore TV days), Haller and her older sister are big fans, too. "My mom raised us on Oprah, for better or worse," she says with a laugh.

When she got back from Chicago, Haller passed along the second prize last week's audience won -- a Motorola smart phone -- to her sister and, as an extra placation, offered to do a lot of babysitting in the future.

Haller did have one tiny qualm about the Australian adventure -- getting into a plane piloted by Travolta. She felt a lot better when she heard that the actor is a part-time flier for Qantas and has made the trip before.


Posted by Tim Smith at 1:30 PM | | Comments (3)


Yay Sarah Haller!

I am an Australian viewer and was very moved by the show. However, i see myself and many of my Australian friends as loyal Oprah fans also and I have to admit feel a little jealous. I am just waiting to see if we the Australian fans that wish to attend the Opera House also will be changed for the prevelage to she her in our own country. I know it is great for Australia that she is coming but bringing 300 views means there is less room for the Australia that would love to see her just once will not get the chance.

I hope O's folks see your suggestion. Sounds like a perfect exchange. TIM

The beloved Oprah, however, is not dipping into her own ten-figure net worth to pay for their trip Down Under; the taxpayers of Australia will be picking up the tab for Oprah and her guests! (John Travolta himself is employed as an official goodwill ambassador for Quantas.)

It seems to me, as an erstwhile attorney, that the trip's cost should be considered a gift, rather than winnings (i.e., income), and taxed accordingly (i.e., only if the actual cost per giftee exceeds the threshold for a state or federal gift tax levy)!?! Either way, if further moneys are given to recipients to cover taxes levied, those additional sums are also taxable, either as income or as additional gifts, as the case may be. There is simply no way around the tax man's long-armed reach in such matters, as a matter of law.

The audience members who are intent not to incur further tax liabilities as a result of their having attended Oprah's season opener should be instructed that the only legal way to do so is simply to refuse the gift and miss out on the trip Down Under (assuming that the trip, if ruled a gift, rather than income per se, exceeds the permissible annual limits for state and federal gift-tax levies).

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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