Brundibár is a children’s opera that was written in a concentration camp in Theresienstadt. In 1942, it was performed there 55 times by Jewish musicians and children. It is a rarity to see this opera nowadays, yet given its duration (hardly 30 minutes) and sharp message of good over evil, there are things to learn and cherish about this historical piece.
I had the pleasure of seeing Brundibár performed live by children of the Abridged Opera Company. The company, originally from Canada, has been touring, showcasing the tale of a brother and sister Pepíček and Aninku. The story watches them agonise over the health of their mother. They decide to sing for money so they can buy milk for her, yet a greedy organ grinder Brundibár chases them away.
At the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, in Paradise in Augustines Church, Tracey B. Atin’s stage was brightly lit with enthusiastic children ready to sing and show the goodness of Hans Krasa’s innocent story-telling. Yet there was a subtle and sinister tone to the music, which had you thinking innocence doesn’t prevail after all.
Sung in English, the Children were dressed as if they were animated characters from a folk tale. The setting was a quaint little village filled with helpful animals including a cat, dog, and courageous sparrow. These three animals assist the siblings in scaring away Brundibár .
The scenes flowed excellently together, and the children were a joy to watch. Robert Godden looked villainous as one would expect from a pantomime as the evil organ grinder. Pianist Joanna Shultz and Trevor Pittman, on the clarinet, revealed the intricate layers and multiple meanings in Krasa’s composition. And Erin Armstrong showed respect for the music and gave the children the extra push to perform as best as they could, to which they charmed and showed much enjoyment in.
Productions like these, invented by fringe-like companies such as Abridged Opera, are a great place to restore knowledge for audiences of lost histories with personal voices and spectacular music. It is also a great place for little ones to start out on the stage and become fully engrossed with opera.