Tuesday, November 10, 2009


Emma as the "keen cat".

The fearless sparrow, the wise dog and the keen cat.

At the weekend Emma was involved in a Children's Operatic Workshop at Morundah which was run by Richard Gill OAM who is the Musical Director of Victoria Opera. They learned and staged a performance of Brundibar after the 2 day workshop. The children were allowed to use their scripts for prompts because this play is normally learnt in a 10 day session! Emma played the part of the "keen cat". Richard did a wonderful job with the children.

One original participant of Brundibar was quoted "when we sang we forgot where we were and forgot how hungry we were".

Krasa and Hoffmeister wrote the opera in 1938 for a government competition, but the competition was later cancelled due to political developments. Rehearsals started in 1941 at the Jewish orphanage in Prague, which served as a temporary educational facility for children separated from their parents by the war. In the winter of 1942 the opera was first performed at the orphanage: by this time, composer Krasa and set designer Frantisek Zelenka had already been transported to Theresienstadt concentration camp in Czechoslovakia. By July 1943, nearly all of the children of the original chorus and the orphanage staff had also been transported to Theresienstadt. Only the librettist Hoffmeister was fortunate to escape Prague in time.

Reunited with the cast in Theresienstadt, Krasa 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: flute, clarinet, guitar, accordion, piano, percussion, four violins, a cello and a double bass. A set was once again designed by Frantisek Zelenka, former stage manger at the Czech National Theatre: several flats were painted as a background, in the foreground was a fence with drawings of the cat, dog and lark and holes for the singers to insert their head in place of the animals' heads. On 23 September 1942, Brundibar premiered in Theresienstadt. The production was directed by Zelenka and choreographed by Camilla Rosenbaum, and was shown 55 times in the following year.

A special performance of Brundibar was staged in 1944 for representatives of the Red Cross who came to inspect living conditions in the camp; what the Red Cross did not know at the time was that much of what they saw during their visit was a show, and that one of the reasons the Theresienstadt camp seemed comfortable was that many of the residents had been deported to Auschwitz in order to reduce crowding during their visit. Later that year this Brundibar performance was filmed for a Nazi propaganda film. The Brundibar footage from this film is included in the Emmy-Award winning documentary "Voices of the Children" directed by Zuzana Justman, a Terezin survivor, who sang in the chorus. Ela Weissberger who played the part of the cat, appears in the film.

Most of the participants in the Theresienstadt production, including the composer Krasa, were later exterminated in Auschwitz.

The plot of the opera shares elements with fairy tales such as Hansel and Gretel and The Town Musicians of Bremen. Annette and 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. However, with the help of a fearless sparrow, keen cat, and a wise dog, and the children of the town, they are able to chase Brundibar away, and sing in the market square.

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