On Saturday, May 20, Santa Barbara Youth Opera, in collaboration with Ojai Youth Opera and the Santa Barbara Youth Symphony, presents children’s opera Brundibár by Jewish Czech composer Hans Krása at the Lobero Theatre (33 E. Canon Perdido St.) at 2:30 p.m. and 5 p.m.
Of conducting the production, Opera Santa Barbara Artistic Director Kostis Protopapas says, “I’m very excited to begin Brundibár rehearsals with the kids of Santa Barbara Youth Opera, Ojai Youth Opera, and the Santa Barbara Youth Symphony. Bringing humans together through art is any arts organization’s primary purpose. In a world currently filled with so much dissonance, disillusionment and fear, gathering the children of our three organizations around a piece with such deep human significance is especially meaningful and timely. Brundibár’s message is one of strength, hope, and courage. There is no one better to convey it than our young singers and orchestra musicians, and I know that its impact will be felt deeply by all of us who have the honor of participating or attending.”
Brundibár was composed in 1938 as an entry for a government competition, and officially premiered at a Jewish orphanage in Prague, which was occupied by Germany at the time, in 1924, after secretly debuting the year before. In 1943, Krása worked from a smuggled score and re-orchestrated the work for the 13 adult instrumentalists on hand after he and the rest of the orphanage had been transported to Theresienstadt concentration camp. Brundibár was performed more than 50 times at the camp and came to came to prominence in Nazi propaganda efforts. A special performance was presented for International Red Cross inspectors, and was featured in the film Hitler Gives the Jews a City in 1944. Promptly following filming, all participating adults and children were sent to Auschwitz, where most died in the gas chambers.
Ojai Youth Opera founder and co-director of the Santa Barbara Youth Opera with Mr. Protopapas, Rebecca Comerford says, “At its most basic level, Brundibár is a folktale, a musical fable told from the perspective of a brave brother and sister who are the protagonists at the center of the story. The two children are confronted by a larger-than-life organ grinder, who tries to bully them and scare them from being less than themselves. The animals and townspeople of their small village serve as symbols of resistance and encouragement to help the siblings find their voices and ultimately succeed in standing up to Brundibár, despite them being children. Although the story is simple, its message is anything but.”
She continues, “Hitler failed to realize that the opera was a work of resistance. The Brundibár character symbolized Hitler himself, a bully and tyrant who would stop at nothing to get his own way, including threatening the innocence and needs of small children. But in this story, the children overcome the tyrant and refuse to be intimidated. Their innocence and hope prevail, and those qualities are reflected in the harmonized choral writing of Krása’s score, which at times recalls the sonorities of Kurt Weill, another resistor to the Nazi regime.”
Driven by its tragic history, Brundibár’s power is undeniable. With lyrics by Adolf Hoffmeister, the performance includes only one adult part and two movements from the song cycle I Never Saw Another Butterfly, composed by Charles Davidson and inspired by poems made by the children of Theresienstadt.