When I made the decision to present Brundibár as part of Tulsa Youth Opera’s 2012-2013 season, I knew the piece could touch some nerves. Still today, 70 years later, the Holocaust haunts the memories of even those who didn’t experience it firsthand. There are, of course, familiar legacies from the Holocaust: the uplifting but terrifying story of Anne Frank, the hiding place for Jews created by the ten Boom family. But Hans Krása’s children’s opera is perhaps the most heartbreaking of all. The opera itself is an inspiring tale of teamwork, community, and love; but the history of the opera is chilling.
Brundibár tells the tale of Pepicek and Aninku, a brother and sister whose mother is very ill and has been prescribed milk as a restorative. The children go to the town square but quickly learn that milk cannot be acquired without money. They attempt to earn money by singing, but an evil organ-grinder (Brundibár) drowns them out with his instrument. Through the help of a cat, dog, and sparrow, along with the children of the community, Brundibár is vanquished and the children earn enough money to bring milk to their mother.
The opera was first performed in Prague in 1942. Shortly after the first performance, the composer, who was Jewish, was transported to the Terezin concentration camp, where he rewrote the piece from memory. In 1944, the opera was performed by imprisoned Jewish children for the Red Cross in a successful attempt to impress the international representatives. Later that year the opera was recorded as part of a Nazi propaganda film. After filming was completed, Krása, director Kurt Gerron, and the cast and orchestra were transported to Auschwitz, where most were immediately gassed.
Tulsa Youth Opera is Tulsa Opera’s tuition-free training program for singers in grades 3-12. The group is celebrating its 15th anniversary in the 2012-2013 season and is honored to present this revival production from 1997.
Please come to one of Tulsa Youth Opera’s two free performances of Brundibár: Sunday, January 13, 2:00 p.m. at TU’s Lorton Performance Center; and Sunday, January 20, 2:00 p.m. at the Sherwin Miller Museum of Jewish Art.