Saturday, April 11, 2009

Brundibar: a children's opera from the Terezin Concentration Camp

Some time ago, there was a large illustrated article in the New York Times, regarding a production of the Czech children’s opera, Brundibár, composed by Hans Krása in 1938, before he was sent to the Nazi concentration camps, Terezin also known as Theresienstadt, and Auschwitz, where he later died. Under the composer’s direction, this opera was performed many times at Terezin/Theresienstadt, with a changing cast of imprisoned children, many of whom also later died in the camps. It became one of the most frequently performed pieces in Terezin/Theresienstadt, as it symbolized in the person of Brundibár, all the evil that the Nazi regime stood for. When the children sang their final song of victory over Brundibár, the evil organ grinder, “We won a victory over the tyrant mean”, “Since we were not fearful”, “Since we were not tearful”, the entire audience of concentration camp prisoners, know exactly what this meant and it helped to serve as a form of intellectual protest for them, as well as to boost their morale and lessen their suffering.

The New Jersey State Opera, donated to the Rodgers & Hammerstein Recorded Sound Archives, a rare video of the opera, Brundibár; the evil organ grinder, a musical fairy tale in one act, performed by members of the Resident Choir of the American Boychoir School and other selected children choristers from New Jersey middle and upper schools, together with the New Jersey State Opera, 1988. The Recorded Sound Archives also has a CD of Brundibár, recorded in Middlebury College, Vermont, 1996, with the Essex Children’s Choir, and the Vermont Symphony Orchestra and Chorus.

Both this video recording and the CD of Brundibár, are available to the public for viewing and listening, in the Rodgers & Hammerstein Archives of Recorded Sound, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center. Our Music Research Division also has a tri-lingual vocal score in Czech, German and English, as well as an english-only version, and a libretto. All of the above can be consulted while viewing the video or listening to the CD.

Brundibár was restaged by Maurice Sendak and Tony Kushner in an English translation, for the Yale Repertory Theater and played in New York in April and May, 2006, at the New Victory Theater. The video of this production, can be viewed at the Theatre on Film and Tape, Billy Rose Theatre Collection, Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center.

Brundibár’s message of hope, courage and strength in the presence of great tragedy and suffering, should resonate strongly with the audiences of today.

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