Hansel and Gretel: Design your own opera! is an open-access website that allows children to create a personalized version of Humperdinck’s opera and to go backstage to learn about the making of an opera production.
Clicking through the screens, the child is engaged in each scene in creating some aspect of the setting or action, such as costumes, choreography, backdrops, lighting, or props. After a selection is made—such as a costume—it remains that way throughout the whole opera.
The interactivity is combined with guided listening suggestions; before the child clicks to go to the next scene, an audio prompt suggests what to listen for.
This according to “Design your own opera!…online!” by Rachel Nardo (General music today XXIV/1 [October 2010] pp. 41–42).
Today is Engelbert Humperdinck’s 160th birthday! Below, the iconic duet followed by some decidedly odd goings-on.
Dinah Washington spent her youth on the South Side of Chicago, Illinois, where she sang in church from the age of ten.
She gave her first secular public performance in a Chicago nightclub at the age of 18, and soon came to the attention of the bandleader Lionel Hampton, for whom she started singing in 1942.
Although initially unhappy with life on the road, Washington soon became acclimated, and developed the abrasive, one-of-the-guys personality for which she later became famous. She made a steady upward climb to stardom after her departure from Hampton’s band in 1945, and her popularity was at its peak when she died unexpectedly in 1962.
This according to Queen: The life and music of Dinah Washington by Nadine Cohodas (New York: Pantheon, 2004).
Today is Washington’s 90th birthday! Below, live at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1958.
“Sculpture, music, text: Winckelmann, Herder, and Gluck’s Iphigénie en Tauride” by Simon Richter (Goethe yearbook VIII  pp. 157–71) considers Gluck’s opera in the context of Johann Joachim Winckelmann’s writings on the statue known as Laocoön, widely regarded as the measure for classical beauty in the second half of the 18th century, and Johann Gottfried Herder‘s writings on the human voice as a common origin for both music and language.
According to Richter, Gluck’s Iphigénie enacts a musical version of Winckelmann’s classical aesthetics, which in turn may have consequences for the way in which Iphigénie is performed, staged, and interpreted. Gluck is in every respect staging the allegorical triumph of his opera reform as the musical counterpart of Winckelmann’s classical aesthetics.
This year we celebrate the 250th anniversary of the publication of Winckelmann’s Geschichte der Kunst des Althertums (Dresden, 1764)! Winckelmann revolutionized the understanding of stylistic changes in Greco-Roman art and deeply influenced archaeological studies. His concept of edle Einfalt und stille Grösse (noble simplicity and quiet grandeur) put the excessive complexities of Baroque aesthetics to rest, influencing Gluck and others.
Above, the sculpture in question (click to enlarge); below, Susan Graham as Iphigénie.
It is no longer accurate to call Elvis Costello a rock star. Rather, he is a professional omnivore—a master, for better and worse, of eclecticism.
Costello presents himself as much as a fan as a participant, and his participation is relentless. He has evolved into one of the most spirited accomplices in tribute gigs, variety evenings, and extracurricular combinations.
This according to “Brilliant mistakes: Elvis Costello’s boundless career” by Nick Paumgarten (The New Yorker LXXXVI/35 [8 November 2010] pp. 48–59.
Today is Costello’s 60th birthday! Above, receiving an honorary doctorate and some Red Sox memorabilia at New England Conservatory in 2013; below, at the Montreal Jazz Festival in 2006.
BONUS: Back in the day.
Cambridge Scholars launched the series The Arizona Center for Judaic Studies publication in 2014 with The Jewish experience in classical music: Shostakovich and Asia, edited by Alexander Tentser.
The book’s juxtaposition of two highly dissimilar composers allows an exploration of the breadth of influence of traditional Jewish culture on Western classical music in the 20th century and beyond. The first part focuses on the humane qualities of Dmitrij Šostakovič’s personality—his honesty and courage, which enabled him in difficult times to express Jewish torment and suffering under both the Soviet and Nazi regimes through his works; the second part is dedicated to the music of Daniel Asia and to his philosophical and religious identification with Judaism.
Below, Šostakovič and Nina Dorliak perform one of his settings of traditional Jewish songs, and Jonathan Shames performs Asia’s Why (?) Jacob.
When the Count Basie Orchestra first achieved prominence in 1936 it was using a basic antiphonal style and repertoire borrowed from other performance groups.
In those days, the originality of Basie’s orchestra lay in its rhythm section and in the abilities of its several outstanding soloists. In effect, Basie brought a version of the Kansas City backroom jam session onto the bandstand.
When he re-formed his orchestra in 1950–51, after over a year of leading a sextet, Basie depended on mass effects, orchestral precision, adventurous voicings, and a new repertoire.
During this time he relied on the talents of composer-orchestrators Frank Foster, composer of Shiny stockings, Neal Hefti (Cute), Thad Jones (Speaking of sounds), and others. Basie’s new sound slightly echoed that of the Jimmie Lunceford Orchestra of the 1930s, but was otherwise without precedent in jazz history.
This according to “Horses in midstream: Count Basie in the 1950s” by Martin T. Williams (Annual review of jazz studies II  pp. 1–6).
Today is Basie’s 110th birthday! Above and below, the Count Basie Orchestra in 1951 (pictured above with Ethel Waters).
Celos aun del aire matan: Fiesta cantada (opera in three acts) (Middleton: A-R editions, 2014) is a critical performing edition of the earliest extant Hispanic opera, Celos aun del aire matan by Juan Hidalgo (1614–85). The work is the most extensive surviving example of Hispanic Baroque theatrical music.
Designed for the Spanish royal court’s festivities honoring the marriage of Infanta María Teresa of Spain and King Louis XIV of France, this passionate fiesta cantada in three acts was first produced in Madrid, thanks to the collaboration of Hidalgo and the court dramatist, Pedro Calderón de la Barca (1600–81). The opera was designed for performance by a cast of young female actress-singers (the only role requiring a male voice is for a comic tenor) and a continuo group.
This edition, which includes an extensive introduction, an English translation of the Calderón text, and a unique loa from the 1682 Naples production, contributes to a better understanding of Hidalgo’s music and the contribution of Hispanic music to early modern musical culture.
Above and below, moments from a 2000 performance of the work at the Teatro Real in Madrid.
The singer, composer, and bandleader Bobby Byrd’s life and career were closely intertwined with those of James Brown.
Growing up together in Toccoa, Georgia, Byrd gave Brown his first break by inviting him to join the Famous Flames—the vocal group founded by Byrd—after his family took a young Brown into their home following a prison term served for robbery.
After Brown seized the frontman spot, and after he briefly dismissed the Flames altogether, Byrd went on to play an integral role in Brown’s career both on stage and off for the next ten years, providing vocal counterpoint and musical leadership while also serving as an intermediary between the singers, musicians, and dancers employed by Brown.
Known for his catch phrase “Don’t worry ‘bout a thing”, Byrd was widely loved and respected. Although he carved out a modest solo career, if he had been associated with the writers, producers, and musicians at a label like Atlantic or Stax, today he would be remembered alongside the likes of Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, and Solomon Burke. His bond with Brown was perhaps both blessing and curse, but their shared background, struggles, and successes made the bond nearly inevitable.
This according to “Don’t worry ‘bout a thing: Bobby Byrd (1934–2007)” by Alan Leeds (Wax poetics 26 [December/January 2007/2008] pp. 36–39.
Today is Byrd’s 80th birthday! Above, Bobby Byrd (center of trio) with Johnny Terry, Bobby Bennett, and James Brown at the Apollo Theater in 1964; below, with the JB All-Stars in 1989).
In 2005 Pat Metheny was alarmed by shortening attention spans and bite-sized media blips.
“The new form now is ringtones!” he exclaimed in an interview. “It went from a symphony to an album, then to singles, then edit your single, then four-bar loops, and now it’s down to one or two seconds.
In response Metheny created The way up, a CD comprising a single work that lasts over an hour. The guitarist described it as “a protest in the purest sense of the word—it offers an alternative, not just a shrill polemic…[the album] “is a reaction to a world where things are getting shorter, dumber, less interesting, less detailed, more predictable.”
“If you look at the whole history of the group, we’ve been totally interested in expansion in terms of form… It seemed like now was the time to go all the way and attempt to use the CD itself as a platform.”
This according to “The advancing guitarist” by David L. Adler (JazzTimes XXXV/2 [March 2005] pp. 36–42).
Today is Metheny’s 60th birthday! Below, the group plays the full work live in April 2005.
Levande Musikarv/Swedish Musical Heritage is an open-access Internet database of Swedish composers born at least 100 years ago, including biographies, work lists (with facsimiles of works no longer covered by copyright), bibliographies, and links to related material.
There is a hidden treasure trove of significant Swedish art music from the 1600s to the present; unfortunately, for various reasons many have been forgotten. Much of this music is only available in hard-to read-manuscripts, often in poor condition, with decaying paper, fading ink, and so on.
One of the other goals of the project is to produce critical editions of Swedish art music, helping it to become a vital part of our modern concert repertoire. There are great discoveries to make, not least among the works of women composers.
The database will eventually be bilingual in Swedish and English, in an effort to promote Swedish music abroad.
Below, the Drottningholms Barockensemble performs the sinfonia for flutes and strings in E minor, no. 22, by Johan Helmich Roman (1694–1758).