October 2013 is the bicentenary of the birth of the great Italian opera composer Giuseppe Verdi. Sabby Sagall explains how his operas were not only profoundly shaped by the revolutionary times he lived in, but how they in turn helped inspire the unification movement to ultimate victory.
On 10 October the world will celebrate the bicentenary of the birth of Giuseppe Verdi, one of the trio together with Mozart and Wagner of Europe's greatest operatic composers. Verdi was a composer who was quite conscious of the links between music, society and politics. Born into a family of rural innkeepers, he was proud of his humble origins. When King Vittorio Emanuele wanted to ennoble him, he replied, "I am a peasant." He wanted his music to speak to the masses, not to a privileged elite.
The film Made in Dagenham portrays the 1968 strike of women workers at Ford. Dora Challingsworth and Sheila Douglass spoke to Sabby Sagall and Sheila McGregor about their experiences during the strikes.
Dora Challingsworth (left) and Sheila Douglass (right)
Music is the most abstract of the arts yet it tells us truths about the world through its impact on our emotional life.
The human experience which the composers convey is not simply the product of past musical influences but is shaped by the historical context. This is borne out by the strange coincidence that Frédéric Chopin and Robert Schumann, the two greatest composers of romantic piano music, were born in the same year.
Oscar winning actor Julie Christie talks to Sabby Sagall and Judith Orr about her work and political commitment and how she feels about the media treatment of women in the public eye in the age of celebrity culture.
Your first film was Billy Liar in 1963. It was about a woman, Liz, who wanted to challenge conventions and live her own life. Were you aware in your own life about women's changing expectations at that time?
I had absolutely no understanding of the social historical meaning of anything then, let alone of the part I was playing. She was a beatnik, not yet of the 1960s. It's just after the war. Billy represented the fears and repression of post-war Britain and Liz the very beginning of a new culture which youth called "freedom".
Sabby Sagall recently visited Palestine as part of a twinning project. Here he describes the daily struggles of Palestinians as they continue to resist the Israeli occupation.
The taxi skirts round the 16th century Ottoman wall of Jerusalem's Old City, reaching for the hills of Palestine. The rocky, sun-dried slopes roll east towards the Jordan river and north towards Galilee; silent witnesses of the unending suffering of the Palestinian people, but also of their unbelievable courage and resilience.
Palestine in 2006 was dominated by a single event: the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas's overwhelming victory in last January's general elections.
Israel then launched an economic embargo on the new government, withholding tax-revenues belonging to the Palestinian Authority (PA) and successfully urging western governments to cease aid payments.
The result has been a slow strangulation of the already crippled Palestinian economy and a great intensification of Palestinian suffering. The justification was three-fold: Hamas's refusal to recognise Israel's right to exist, to formally renounce violence and to accept previous agreements with Israel.
Review of 'Born Jewish', Marcel Liebman, Verso £14.99
Marcel Liebman was a Belgian Jewish socialist historian. He lived part of his childhood in the shadow of the Nazi occupation of Belgium. Born Jewish is a memoir of his family's day to day battle to survive. It is a moving and inspiring account that testifies to the courage and resilience of the Jews of Europe during the Second World War. In a trenchant introduction, Jaqueline Rose identifies the book's crucial themes.
Review of 'Un Ballo in Maschera' by Giuseppe Verdi, Royal Opera House, London
Un Ballo in Maschera (A Masked Ball), written in 1859, originally dealt with the assassination of King Gustavus III of Sweden but the Neapolitan censors, unhappy about anything that implied disrespect for the monarchy, forced Verdi to reset it in colonial New England. In this revived production, Italian director Mario Martone has relocated it again, a century later, to Boston during the American Civil War. King Gustavus is now Riccardo, governor of Boston.
Review of 'Chicken Soup with Barley' by Arnold Wesker, Tricycle Theatre
In the late 1950s a new wave of young, radical dramatists took British theatre by storm, challenging the conventional, complacent type of drama that dominated the stage with plays that explored at a deeper level the distortion of human relationships by our society, and confronting head-on the key political issues of the day. This group of dramatists included John Arden, John Osborne, Harold Pinter and Arnold Wesker.