Fighting Evil with Music

JT News
Publication Date

By Emily K. Alhadeff, Associate Editor, JTNews

SEATTLE (March 6, 2014) - Two poor children, desperate for milk for their ailing mother, go to the marketplace to perform for spare change, only to be drowned out by a wicked organ grinder — Brundibár — who monopolizes the audience. But with a little resilience and help from a dog, cat, and sparrow, the children prevail. Goodness vanquishes evil.

This is the premise of the beloved children’s opera “Brundibár,” composed by Czech musicians Hans Krása and Adolf Hoffmeister in 1938 shortly before the Nazis invaded their country. Deported to Terezín, Krása reconstructed the opera. It went on to be performed by children 55 times and, despite the irony of the material, was propagandized as proof of happiness and cultural vibrancy at the concentration camp. Krása, along with most of the children performers, were transported to Auschwitz, where they were killed. Goodness is vanquished; evil prevails.

Only one of the original Terezín performers appeared in all 55 productions, and survived. Ela Stein Weissberger, who played the role of the cat, has devoted her life to promoting “Brundibár.” Now 83, Weissberger travels to “Brundibár” productions around the world.
Weissberger will visit Seattle March 22-23 for Music of Remembrance’s production of “Brundibár” at Seattle Children’s Theatre.
“Ela has, as her personal goal in life, to share the story of “˜Brundibár’ and her message of hope and courage,” said Mina Miller, MOR’s founder and artistic director. “She’s quite a luminary.”

The opera, adapted by Tony Kushner and directed by Erich Parce, is comprised of talented child performers from Northwest BoyChoir and VocalPoint! Joseph Crnko conducts a 12-piece ensemble, with Miller on piano.
“It’s innocent, it’s engaging, it brings an unforgettable message of hope in the darkest of times,” said Miller. “It honors the lives and the legacy of those courageous persons, especially children, whose creative work was an expression of spiritual resistance to tyranny.”
An MOR fundraising tribute dinner at The Ruins in honor of Weissberger will follow the March 22 performance.
This is Weissberger’s second trip to Seattle for MOR’s production of “Brundibár.” She came in 2006 when MOR put up the show at Benaroya Hall.

“Of all the performances she’s been to in her life, she said ours was the best,” Miller told JTNews. Yet at the time, Weissberger was critical of MOR’s decision to cast young adults in the roles of children. “This performance is very traditional,” Miller said. The performers will be younger, and the theater space allows for a set. Since the last “Brundibár,” Miller said parents have been asking when the Seattle-based Holocaust music organization will bring it back. “It’s been eight years, and there is a whole new generation,” she said. However, according to Miller, this will be the last “Brundibár” run for MOR. “It’s a huge investment in time and effort,” she said. “I think this is it. It will be up to someone else. This is it for Seattle.”

“Brundibár” is recommended for audiences age 8 and up, and presents kids with the historical Holocaust without the crushing heaviness of its reality.“It gives them a palpable example of facing evil and forming an empowered response to it,” said Miller. “It’s timeless. It’s so accessible to children and their families.” Miller turns to Kushner, who provides notes to his adaptation:
“Instead of false comfort, “˜Brundibár’ offers inspiration to action, and exhortation. Be brave, and you can make bullies behave! Rely on friends! Make common cause, build communities, organize and resist! And tyrants of all kinds, in every generation, can be and must be made to fall.”

Read the original publication here.