The Nazis could pack people into concentration camps, but they never succeeded in imprisoning their spirits. One of the best examples of the irresistible strength of personal expression is the children s opera Brundibar, which was produced and staged in , a concentration camp in Terezin, Czechoslovakia, that was used by the Nazis as a show camp in propaganda films and as a decoy for International Red Cross inspectors.
Children and adults from in Huntsville will perform Brundibar during "Voices from Terezin" on April 11 and 12, 2014, at , 1306 Canstatt Drive, just behind the YMCA on Weatherly Road in south Huntsville. Ela Weissberger, who as a child imprisoned at Terezin played the role of Cat in the original productions, will be introducing the performances. Weissburger, 83, will be wedging her appearances in Huntsville, which include visits to several Huntsville City Schools on Friday, between speaking engagements in Israel and Holland.
Ela is absolutely charming, delightful, with more energy for 83 years old than you could ever believe, said Ginger Beazley, founder-director of Ars Nova, who is also directing the production. She is the last surviving performer from the original cast. It is a remarkable thing serendipity or other powers that she can be here for this.
Brundibar tells of poor children trying to get milk for their very sick mother. The story is a classic of folktale art, with the bad guy, played by Jeff Lapidus, eventually being defeated. The music reflects the energy of traditional Czech folk songs. The show is suitable for all ages, Beazley said.
The performances in Huntsville will capture some of the paradoxical joy and sadness of the original productions. Weissberger s introduction will set the context of how the opera a sly satire of the Nazis was staged, giving the children in it a breath of a make-believe world where the powerless win over the powerful. But the opera is also reminder of how Brundibar was staged when ordered as part of the Nazis propaganda to get the rest of the world off the scent of the horrors of the concentration camps. After 55 performances in the camp, the Nazis featured it in a propaganda film, and then many of the child actors, along with the opera s composers, were sent to Auschwitz, where they were gassed.
The opera is charming funny, and delightful, Beazley said. And every time I talk to Ela, the energy, the joy of life and the presence of hope is the primary thing that comes through. She told me, I must do this because I am one voice speaking for the many children who didn t live.
The short opera will be followed by a performance of I Never Saw Another Butterfly, a collection of heart-wrenching songs based on poems written by children in Terezin and set to music by Charles Davidson. The song cycle will be performed by soprano Christie Weber and a children s ensemble directed by Lea Hoppe, director of the Huntsville Community Children s Chorus.
Little children will probably not understand the significance of the song cycle and probably shouldn t, Beazley said. But it s beautiful music.
Tickets, , for "Voices from Terezin" are available at the door and in advance at . Performances are Friday, April 11, at 7:30 p.m., and Saturday, April 12, at 2 p.m.