Children to Children

There's more behind the story of "Brundibor" than a simple opera for children.

Children to Children
Modern Children Perform Historic Opera for Children

Imagine that right now you’re huddled in the middle of war in one of the world trouble-spots – Mali, Syria, Gaza – or even that you’re a teenaged girl in Pakistan, shot just because you try to go to school. How would you cope?

Here in the Czech Republic, in the Nazi work camp known as Terezín in 1938, children were also trying to cope. Amazingly, some still somehow found the energy to memorize and then perform a children’s opera. Brundibar, about good children’s triumph over an evil organist, enjoyed a revival and accompanying lectures this month at the Czech Museum of Music.

The opera was performed at the museum Nov 4 by Archioni Plus chamber orchestra conducted by Michael Macourek, and the Disman Radio Ensemble under the direction of Zdena Flégová. It was introduced by one of the original child survivors of the camp, Eva Herrmannová.

Mrs Herrmannová sang in the original Terezín performances when she was 15. (Later, she was the director of the National Theatre Opera [1990-1995], according to museum sources.) Mrs Herrmannová told the Prague parents and the young audience in attendance, and on Nov 14 at a presentation at the museum, that singing and acting in the camp opera helped the children keep up their spirits, even though they were tired and dirty at the end of their taxing workday.

The little opera in which children of various ages sing wistfully to vendors bearing priceless goods – meat, bread, milk, and even ice-cream – nearly disappeared twice in its history. It was created by Hans Krasa and Adolf Hoffmeister as their entry in a pre-war competition. But due to historic events, it was never judged. That might have been the end of it. But one Rudolf Freudenfeld safely conducted Jewish children from Prague to Hagibor, an asylum area for Jewish children close to today’s Želivského district in Prague. And it was here that Brundibar was first performed.

But soon Mr Freudenfeld also was deported to Terezín, and that could also have been the end of the story too. Instead, he again began to rehearse the little opera with the ready “cast” of dedicated children there, and they managed an incredible 55 performances of the work.

The performance by children in modern-day Prague was a careful replica version of the original opera also performed by children, in a time of terror and danger all those years ago. — oo

– Mary Matz

Photo Credits: Miroslav Setnička

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