Verdi’s Music Keeps Playing, In Opera Houses and Online

Surely one of the greatest honors for any artist is for his or her work to survive long after the artist’s death. Such is the case for the great Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi. Though yesterday (January 27) was the anniversary of his death in 1901, his operas continue to be heard and performed throughout the world.

Opera houses continue to stage productions of his work, and his work is even being performed in ways that take advantage of modern technology, ways Verdi could never have imagined. On January 7th of this year, the Royal Opera House of London broadcast a Royal Opera LIVE event online, in which viewers could watch ten hours of uninterrupted footage from backstage at the Royal Opera House. As part of this event, and to celebrate Verdi’s 200th birthday this year, the Opera House invited people from all over the world to submit video of themselves singing Verdi’s Va Pensiero from the opera Nabucco. Video submissionsGiuseppe_Verdi00 came in from all over the world, capturing people performing Verdi’s music in diverse places such as The Sydney Opera House, the Kyoto Imperial Palace, and one woman’s kitchen while she prepares Christmas dinner. These performances were broadcast as part of the Royal Opera LIVE event, and can still be seen on Youtube and the website of the Royal Opera House. Furthermore, some of the best moments from the submissions will be incorporated into a new commissioned work by  British composer Elspeth Brooke inspired by Va Pensiero. The new composition will debut later this year.

This was just the first of many celebrations of Verdi planned for this year, the 200th anniversary of his birth on October 10, 1813. The Vienna State Opera, in Vienna, Austria, for example, will be staging a number of Verdi operas this year, including La Traviatta and Rigoletto. Verdi’s works will be performed around the world, in places as diverse as Munich, Helsinki, and Shanghai. These events not only pay tribute to Verdi, but show that opera continues to be a vital and important art form, even if it is not as popular as it once was. They also show that great art can transcend time and popular styles, resonating with people even centuries after the art was first created.

To learn more about Giuseppe Verdi, his life, and his contributions to the world of music, check out Giuseppe Verdi and Italian Opera by William Schoell (ISBN #978-159935-041-7) from your local library, or purchase it from Morgan Reynolds Publishing. Then check out our Classical Composers series, featuring biographies on Antonio Vivaldi, George Frideric Handel, Fanny Mendelssohn, Clara Schumann, and Johann Sebastian Bach.

Josh Barrer,

Associate Editor

Published in: on January 28, 2013 at 11:26 am  Leave a Comment  
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The First Lady’s Fashions Help Usher Designers Into History

Barack Obama, Michelle ObamaOn Monday, January 21, 2013, President Barack Obama was sworn in for his second term as President of the United States. His inauguration speech focused on a wealth of issues facing the president and the country in the next four years, including climate change.

But in addition to the president’s words, people paid close attention to his wife and confidante, the First Lady Michelle Obama. In particular, many focused on her fashion choices.

First Lady Obama has long been celebrated and scrutinized for her style and taste for designer fashions. While previous First Ladies have had challenges embracing expensive fashions, Michelle Obama has become a style icon. And the Inauguration, during which the eyes of the world are on her and her husband, is a key chance for her to show off.

As she did during President Obama’s first inauguration in 2009, Michelle Obama wore a pair of shoes created by designer Jimmy Choo to the Inaugural Ball. Though somewhat hidden underneath a long, flowing red dress (by designer Jason Wu, who also created her 2009 dress), the fashion world took note of the red pumps created for the first lady by Choo (which looked similar to these).

Michelle Obama’s fashion choices are obviously a huge boon to the designers she champions; the already famous Jimmy Choo had his profile raised again after the First Lady wore his work in 2009, and her wearing of a dress by Jason Wu helped establish the young designer’s career and led to a popular line of clothes at Target. More than that though, the First Lady’s choices allow the designers to become part of history: the inaugural outfit and its various accessories all go into the National Archives. For Jimmy Choo, who was born on the island of Penang in Malaysia and learned to make shoes in his father’s small shop, this is a remarkable achievement.

To learn more about the life and career of Jimmy Choo, check out Profiles in Fashion: Jimmy Choo by Kerrily Sapet (ISBN 978-1-59935-151-3) from your local library, or purchase it from from Morgan Reynolds Publishing. For more about First Lady Michelle Obama, check out Political Profiles: Michelle Obama by Jeff C. Young (ISBN 978-159935-090-5), also available from Morgan Reynolds Publishing.

-Josh Barrer

Associate Editor

Published in: on January 22, 2013 at 11:20 am  Leave a Comment  
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The Lasting Legacy of Slavery and Those Who Fought It

shacklesTonight (January 8th, 2013) brings the premiere of the new PBS American Experience miniseries, “The Abolitionists.” The historical series details the lives of Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison, Angelina Grimké, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and John Brown, and their historic efforts to abolish slavery and the slave trade in the United States.

This mini-series is just one piece in what seems to be a newly renewed interest in a sad period of American history where it was legal to own slaves, and a war had to be fought to guarantee the freedom of an entire segment of the U.S. population. In movie theaters, two recent hits are Lincoln (about President Abraham Lincoln’s efforts to pass the 13th Amendment which permanently outlawed slavery) and Django Unchained (about a former slave seeking vengeance). Number two on the New York Times best seller list of paperback nonfiction is Team of Rivals, the Lincoln biography that inspired the film Lincoln. Later this year will see the release of the independent film Twelve Years a Slave, starring Chiwetel Ejiofor and Brad Pitt. The film is an adaptation of the famous memoir of the same name by Solomon Northup, a free born black man who was kidnapped and sold into slavery in 1841.

What is behind this renewed interest in the Slavery era and the Civil War? Why are people today suddenly so drawn towards looking back at this horrific period in American history? It’s hard to say. January 1, 2013 marked the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, but it’s certainly more than that. Perhaps in this time, in which we feel irrevocably divided as a country politically, there are lessons to be learned from a period where a moral argument led to a war between the states. Maybe as we continue into the second term of the United States’ first black president, we can look back at a time when people were bought, sold, tortured, and killed just for the color of their skin, and see how far we’ve come, and unfortunately how much further we have to go.

Today (January 8th) also marks the 202nd anniversary of the 1811 German Coast Uprising, the largest slave revolt in U.S. history. Though fifty years before the Civil War, this event showed the considerable discontent and anger amongst American slaves. The story of this uprising will be covered in an upcoming book from Morgan Reynolds Publishing detailing a number of North American slave rebellions. The book is being written by David Aretha who wrote a number of acclaimed titles from Morgan Reynolds Publishing’s Civil Rights Movement series. The book will be one of six in a series about slavery, from it’s beginnings in Africa to an examination of slave life and culture, set to be published in Fall 2013.

For more reading about this time period and the abolitionists who helped change the nation, check out The Liberator: The Story of William Lloyd Garrison (ISBN 978-1-59935-137-7 ) and Unbound and Unbroken: The Story of Frederick Douglass (ISBN 978-1-59935-136-0), both by Amos Esty, from your local library, or purchase them from Morgan Reynolds Publishing.

– Josh Barrer

Associate Editor

Justice For Alan Turing, 60 Years After His Death?

ImageAlan Turing was a brilliant scientist and mathematician; as a codebreaker, he was vital to England’s efforts against the Nazis during World War II, and as a research scientist, his work helped pave the way for computerized artificial intelligence that we take for granted today. But his great legacy is marred by a criminal conviction: in 1952, Turing was tried, and convicted, of indecency for engaging in homosexual acts.

Even though homosexuality remains a heated topic of debate today, it’s easy to forget that homosexuality and homosexual acts were punishable crimes very recently. (Indeed, in many countries, it remains illegal.) In England, homosexuality between men was essentially made illegal in 1885, when statutes against homosexual acts were included in a new set of laws passed under the Criminal Law Amendment Act. These laws remained in effect until 1967. It was during this time that Alan Turing lived.

Now, a group of prominent scientists are calling for British Prime Minister David Cameron to officially pardon Turing, some 58 years after his death. The scientists, who include Professor Stephen Hawking and Royal Society President Sir Paul Nurse, argue that is time Turing’s “reputation be unblemished.”

This is not the first time that efforts have been made to get an official pardon issued for Alan Turing. In February 2012, over 23,000 signatures were collected for an online petition calling for him to be pardoned, but the motion was rejected by the British government. Before that, though, in 2009, Prime Minister Gordon Brown issued an official apology to Turing, calling his arrest and punishment (which included forced injection of estrogen and revocation of his government security clearance) “appalling.”

The British government has also issued numerous honors and reminders of Turing’s legacy, including a street named after him in the city of Manchester, and a commemorative stamp issued by the Royal Mail in 2012, the centenary of Turing’s birth. Turing has also been recognized and praised for his work by UK Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) for contributions to the fields of code breaking and computer science.

Still, these honors aren’t enough for the scientists demanding Turing’s pardon; they find it unacceptable that the legacy of such an important scientist and national hero is tarnished by a criminal conviction, especially since the crime he was convicted of is no longer illegal.

So far the government has not responded to this new request from the scientists. The previous call for a pardon was rejected on the basis that Turing’s conviction was legitimate and in keeping with the laws of the time, which Turing knowingly violated. As that response was just made in February 2012, it seems unlikely that the government will respond differently less than a year later.

Others questions the value of pardoning Turing. In an editorial in UK newspaper The Telegraph, writer Tom Chivers argues that a pardon of Turing would serve little purpose. Chivers agrees that Turing’s conviction and punishment were appalling and wrong, but feels that a pardon issued now will be of no use to the long dead Turing, and will only serve to be a positive publicity stunt for David Cameron and the British government. Chivers argues that it would be much more meaningful for the government to issue a pardon to all people unfairly charged with the crime of indecency. “Don’t pardon Turing because he was a hero and a genius,” Chivers writes. “Pardon him, and everyone else, because there should never have been a crime in the first place.”

Regardless of whether or not Turing is issued a pardon, the controversy does have the positive effect of bringing publicity and attention to Turing, one of the 20th century’s most important scientific thinkers, who was integral in shaping the world as it is today. Indeed, this debate shows just how relevant Turing continues to be, and how his influence continues to be shape the future.

UPDATE (July 22, 2013)- Turing will be pardoned by the British government.


– Josh Barrer,

Associate Editor

To learn more about Alan Turing, his interesting life, and his contributions to science and mathematics, check out Profiles in Mathematics: Alan Turing by Jim Corrigan (ISBN 978-1-59935-064-6) from your local library, or purchase it from Morgan Reynolds Publishing.

Published in: on January 2, 2013 at 1:47 pm  Leave a Comment  
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