Composed in 1938 as a submission for a children’s opera competition, Brundibár by Hans Krása with a libretto by Adolf Hoffmeister, was performed by children at the Jewish orphanage when it premiered in Nazi occupied Prague. Hans Krása was arrested before he ever heard the performance and was transported to the Terezin Ghetto (Theresienstadt). The score for Brundibár was smuggled into the ghetto and performed 55 times by the inmates, for the inmates

Brundibár tells the story of a brother and sister who overcome a local town bully in order to help their ill mother and was the most popular cultural activity and powerful symbol of hope when performed by the Jewish people imprisoned in the Terezín Ghetto.

In 1941 the Nazis promoted Terezín as a “Jewish settlement area”, a “model” camp and a “spa town” where elderly Jews could retire in safety. In reality, Terezín was a collection centre for deportations to ghettos and killing centres across Nazi occupied Eastern Europe. Many cultural activities persisted however and Hans Krása was appointed a director of music. Using a score for Brundibár that was smuggled into the ghetto, he re-orchestrated the opera to fit the various musicians and instruments available in the camp. Under the watchful eyes of the guards, the opera had its first public performance in the Magdeburg barracks on 23 September 1943. Rehearsals and performances were continuously disrupted by deportations of cast members to extermination camps, but players were replaced by newly arriving children. Hans Krása perished in the gas chambers of Auschwitz on 17 October 1944.

Rediscovered in the 1970s, the opera has been performed around the world as a way to connect today’s younger generations with survivors of the Holocaust and to strengthen the world’s watch against oppression and discrimination.

Brundibár will be performed for the first time in Sydney on 14 August at the City Recital Hall Angel Place. The production aims to introduce children to the joys of opera, as well as introducing them to the lessons of the Holocaust.

The Sydney Brundibár Project is a collaboration between academic and musician Dr Joseph Toltz and start-up chamber opera company Opera Prometheus, in association with the Sydney Jewish Museum. For the past 17 years, Dr Toltz has been researching the music of Terezín and the place of Brundibár in the memory of Holocaust survivors.

Dr Toltz commented “Despite Sydney being home to the largest number of Terezín survivors in Australia, Brundibár has not yet been staged here. We believe our production is needed while the opportunity for dialogue between survivors and young people is still possible”.

For the Sydney premiere production, over 30 children aged 8 to 12 years have been cast. In the weeks following the City Recital Hall performances, The Sydney Jewish Museum will host a series of special performances for school groups which will include a conversation with a Holocaust survivor plus a tour of the Museum.

Sandra Tiltman

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