Brundibar- More Than It Seems

“The children’s opera Brundibar was performed in the Terezin concentration camp no fewer than 55 times. It was a useful propaganda tool for the Nazis to show the world how ‘well’ they were treating its inmates but…….. the world was unaware that the cast had to be replenished constantly as virtually all the children who performed in the opera were exterminated shortly after they did so.”

-excerpt from the program notes for the Winnipeg Brundibar performance

Cast of Brundibar-Terezin Concentration Camp- Jewish Museum of Prague

Cast of Brundibar-Terezin Concentration Camp- Jewish Museum of Prague

On Tuesday night I saw the children’s opera Brundibar performed at the Westminster United Church by the members of the Pembina Trails Voices and the Winnipeg Chamber Orchestra. Brundibar was written by Czech composer Hans Krasa who died in a gas chamber at Auschwitz. The musical tells a simple story with an underlying message of freedom from a tyrant. 

My daughter-in-law is the assistant director of one of the choirs that make up the Pembina Trails Voices organization and she invited me to the Winnipeg performance of Brundibar.  The story has been retold in a colorful picture book by Maurice Sendak and Tony Kushner.

Brundibar by Maurice Sendak and Tony Kushner

Brundibar by Maurice Sendak and Tony Kushner

 It is about a young boy and girl singing as buskers in the street to try and earn money to buy milk for their sick mother. Their efforts are thwarted by an evil organ grinder named Brundibar who claims he is the only one who can busk on his street. With the help of some kind animals and a large group of friendly children the brother and sister manage to drown out Brundibar’s music and collect the money they need to buy milk for their mother.

Brundibar at the Chicago Opera Theatre- photo by Liz Lauren

Brundibar at the Chicago Opera Theatre- photo by Liz Lauren

The Winnipeg performance was excellent and even when there were some sound system problems the accomplished young actors and singers continued the show with confidence and poise. The girl who played the part of the sister  had a powerful voice inside her tiny frame. The children looked like they were having a good time. 

I read  in a Philadelphia Inquirer article that as many as 15,000 children came through the concentration camp at Terezin, and only 100 survived. Brundibar has a happy ending. However the sad fate of its intial performers’  as well as the murder of its composer adds a somber tone to any performance of Brundibar.

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Categories: Culture, Historical Events, Miscellaneous | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

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