S.B. Youth Opera to Present Children’s Opera ‘Brundibár’

The Santa Barbara Youth Opera, in collaboration with Ojai Youth Opera and the Santa Barbara Youth Symphony, will present a fully staged production of Brundibár, Jewish Czech composer Hans Krása’s uniquely affecting children’s opera, at the Lobero Theatre on Saturday, May 20. Performances will take place at 2:30 and 5 pm. Tickets cost $22 for adults and $7 for children 12 and under.

“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,” said Opera Santa Barbara Artistic Director Kostis Protopapas, who will conduct the production. “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’s undeniable power stems in part from its tragic history. Composed in 1938 as an entry for a government competition, it received its official premiere at a Jewish orphanage in German-occupied Prague in 1942, following a secret debut the previous year. By 1943 Krása and the residents of the orphanage had been transported to Theresienstadt concentration camp, where, working from a smuggled score, the composer re-orchestrated the work for the 13 adult instrumentalists on hand. Brundibár went on to be performed more than 50 times at the camp and came to figure prominently in Nazi propaganda efforts. In 1944 a special performance was staged for International Red Cross inspectors, and later that year the opera was featured in the film Hitler Gives the Jews a City. Immediately after filming, all participating children and adults were sent to Auschwitz, where most perished in the gas chambers.

“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,” explained Ojai Youth Opera founder Rebecca Comerford, who co-directs the Santa Barbara Youth Opera with Mr. Protopapas. “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.

“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.”

Featuring lyrics by Adolf Hoffmeister, Brundibár includes just one adult part, and is about 40 minutes long. The performances on May 20 will include two movements from the song cycle I Never Saw Another Butterfly, composed by Charles Davidson and inspired by poems from the children of Theresienstadt. (The title of Krása’s work comes from a Czech colloquialism for bumblebee.) Brundibár also will be performed at the Libbey Bowl in Ojai on May 13.

Opera Santa Barbara created the Santa Barbara Youth Opera last year to provide singers ages 8 to 18 with tuition-free instruction and performance opportunities, including participation in the company’s 2016-17 productions of Carmen (last November) and The Cunning Little Vixen (March). Year-round activities also include workshops and community appearances.

Tickets for the May 20 performances of Brundibár can be purchased online at www.lobero.org/events/brundibar-hans-krasa. For additional information, call 805-898-3890.

L'Elisir d'Amore, March 2016, Photo by David Bazemore