The triumph of good over evil

An Israeli and a Czech children's choir perform the poignant opera 'Brundibar'

Brundibar 311 (photo credit: courtesy)
Brundibar 311
(photo credit: courtesy)
Brundibar, a fully staged children’s opera by Hans Krasa, will be performed today by the local Moran Children’s Choir, together with the Pueri Guadentes Choir from Prague and the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, in a special concert dedicated to commemoration of the victims of the Holocaust.
Krasa wrote his opera in 1938 on a libretto by Adolf Hoffmeister, a tale of the victory of good over evil, for a competition organized by the Czech Ministry of Education and Culture.
Shortly afterwards the Nazis invaded and the works of Krasa, who was Jewish, were banned from being performed before a general audience.
Even before the first performance of Brundibar took place at a Jewish boys’ orphanage in Prague, Krasa and the opera’s conductor were arrested and were sent to a transit camp, Theresienstadt.
There, in the “exemplar ghetto,” the composer was reunited with the children. Brundibar was performed in Theresienstadt 55 times, with the cast constantly being renewed, as the inmates were sent to their deaths in extermination camps. The opera was also performed before the Red Cross representatives, and parts of it were filmed for the Nazi propaganda movie The Fuhrer Gives the Jews a Town. All the participants of the production were herded into cattle trucks and sent to Auschwitz as soon as the filming was completed. Most of them were gassed immediately upon arrival – the children, Krasa, the director Kurt Gerron and the musicians.
“Brundibar is a moving opera. It is a symbol of the victory of art over the dark forces,” said Naomi Faran, the founder and artistic director of the Moran Children’s Choir, in a phone interview from her home in Moshav Beit Itzhak. “Although the artists were sent to Auschwitz, they left their art in Theresienstadt, and the opera was performed time and again.”
The Moran choir was first invited to perform Brundibar in 2009 in Leipzi at the famous Gewandhaus Hall and at the new Jewish Museum in Berlin.
Then, together with their German counterparts, Moran presented Brundibar twice in Rishon Lezion – first for children, and then for the Holocaust survivors. And now, following an invitation from the Czech Republic, Moran performs Brundibar together with a local boys’ choir in Prague and at home.
“For our children, performing Brundibar is a very important experience,” stresses Faran. “We wanted to help them to identify with the characters, with the situation, with the kids in Theresienstadt.
We visited the camp, we saw documentaries, and I feel that they have grasped the essence of the piece – that this is all about life and death.”
Yet she clarifies: “Brundibar is not a tragic opera, and kids are happy creatures who always enjoy being on stage.”
Today Moran, which was founded 25 years ago, is arguably one of the country’s best choirs, performing both in Israel and abroad. But the beginning was not easy, Faran recalls.
“I was a school music teacher in a village. I have always been in love with my profession, but a school choir was not enough for me. I wanted a choir that also worked in the evening, not only during school hours. At first, people simply could not understand why do we needed a professional choir, which demands funding. They thought that kids singing nicely on holidays was enough.”
But for Faran, it was not enough. She continued her studies at the Tel Aviv Music Academy. “I knew with the kids you could fly as far as you want, it only depends on how good you are as a conductor. I believe that singing is the most natural thing one can do with one’s voice, and the kids are so natural and open. Choirs like Tölzer Knabenchor and the Hanover Girls’ Choir served as my model,” she says.
Faran’s dream of assimilating the culture of choral music in Israeli society as a whole and especially in the younger generations has come true. Not only does the Moran choir appear in Israel and abroad, but over the years many children’s choirs have flourished around the country.
The fully staged Brundibar opera by Hans Krasa, with the participation of 70 singers from the Czech and Israeli children’s choirs, will be performed today at noon at the Mann Auditorium (Heichal Hatarbut) in Tel Aviv. Naomi Faran conducts.