'Brundibar: A Youth Opera'

Kids of all ages perform a scene during a rehearsal for "Brundibar: A Youth Opera" at the NOVA Center for the Performing Arts. An opera with a remarkable and heartbreaking origin and history during the WWII era, "Brundibar" the first of the NOVA's youth productions this season.

BRONTE WITTPENN, Gazette staff

For the first youth production of the 2017-2018 season, The NOVA Center for the Performing Arts will present "Brundibar: A Youth Opera," an inspiring story about perseverance and triumph. The play runs Sept. 30 through Oct. 15.

For tickets, call NOVA at 591-9535.

In "Brundibar," Aninka (Annette, in English) and Pepicek (Little Joe) are a fatherless sister and brother. Their mother is ill, and the doctor tells them she needs milk to recover. But they have no money. They decide to sing in the marketplace to raise the needed money. But the evil organ grinder Brundibar (who represents Hitler) chases them away.

With the help of a fearless sparrow, a keen cat, a wise dog and the children of the town, they are able to chase Brundibar away, and sing in the market square.

The opera contains symbolism in the triumph of the helpless and needy children over the tyrannical organ grinder, but has no overt references to the conditions under which it was written and performed. However, certain phrases were to the Jewish audience clearly anti-Nazi.

"Brundibar" was first suggested to the Rimrock Opera Foundation in 2005 by Douglas Nagel and has been in discussion since then. NOVA past-president Lucinda Butler has promoted this children’s opera, considering recent events in the U.S. dealing with race relations and neo-Nazi activity. NOVA believed that now was an appropriate time to produce this show.

In 1938, composer Hans Krasa and librettist Adolf Hoffmeister wrote "Brundibar" in the ghettos of Prague. The opera made its way to the Jewish camp of Terezin, where it was performed 55 times by the children of the concentration camp under the direction of Jewish music teachers.

The only time the children were allowed to remove their yellow stars from their clothing was during these performances. The Nazi command permitted concerts at Terezin in order to delude the outside world into thinking the Jews were being treated humanely. A special performance of "Brundibar" was staged in 1944 for representatives of the Red Cross who came to inspect living conditions in the camp.

The Red Cross did not know at the time that much of what they saw during their visit was a sham, and that one of the reasons the Terezin camp seemed comfortable was that many of the residents had been deported to Auschwitz in order to reduce crowding during their visit.

In 1944, the Nazis filmed a performance of "Brundibar" for their propaganda film, "The Fuehrer Presents the Jews with a City." Nearly all of the participants in this Terezin production were herded into cattle trucks and sent to Auschwitz as soon as filming was finished. Most were gassed immediately upon arrival, including the children, the director Kurt Gerron, and the musicians. Krasa met the same fate.

In Terezin, Krása had reconstructed the full score of the opera, based on memory and the partial piano score that remained in his hands, adapting it to suit the musical instruments available in the camp, which included flute, clarinet and guitar.

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Jaci Webb covers entertainment for The Billings Gazette.