Saturday, April 10, 2010


Though sponsored by the Sacramento Opera, the children's opera Brundibár, by the Jewish Czech composer Hans Krása, is really more of an historical and cultural document than an opera. It is famous for having been performed 55 times at the WWII Jewish concentration camp in Theresienstadt, a fortress in the Czech Republic built by the Hapsburg Emperors, and for having been featured in a Nazi propaganda film.

The first part of the program at Hiram Johnson High School in Sacramento was filled out with songs and choruses which would have been sung in Theresienstadt. I know I heard English, German and Hebrew, but there may have been even more languages. The able soloist was Josselyn Ivanov. This section featured the Sacramento Children's Chorus with their excellent director Lynn Stevens. Pictures made by the children of Theresienstadt were recovered after the war and shown to us on a large screen.

The opera, performed in English, is short and simple. Two children go out to find milk for their mother, or in lieu of that money for milk, and are prevented by the organ grinder Brundibár. Good triumphs over evil. Often the accompaniment sounds like organ grinder music, the most successful musical effect. This section of the program was accompanied by the Sacramento Youth Symphony Orchestra and conducted by Timm Rolek.

After the musical portion Ela Stein Weissberger, who had played the cat in the Theresienstadt production, spoke about life in the concentration camp and the fate of her fellow cast members. She travels the world speaking about Brundibár.

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