Recording Brings Back Memories of Local Production
By Peter Jacobi
A bit more than a year ago, in November 2016, I gave both column and review coverage to a production of great importance to me and which I thought would and should be of significance to you.
A short, one-act opera by a Czech composer, Hans Krasa, was introduced to the area through a production by Jewish Theater of Bloomington and Stages Bloomington at The Warehouse. “Brundibar” was and is the name of the opera, and it was completed for production by Krasa while he was a prisoner at Terezin, a concentration camp from which he and most of his fellow internees were shipped to Auschwitz.
The composer’s hope was to stage the opera with and for the children there. That hope was realized. There were 55 presentations of his stage piece, a work both delightful and menacing. Its story is about a brother and sister sent out to buy milk for the family, including an ill mother. They have no money to make the purchase. So, they sing for their supper in the town’s marketplace. But the evil organ grinder Brundibar chases them off. To their rescue come a sparrow, dog, cat, and children of the town who bring the two youngsters back and chase Brundibar out of town, snatching his stolen cash in the process. Singing begins again. Joy follows.
Brundibar is the Hitler figure. He may have been sent scurrying off in the opera, but his shadow, of course, remained, always ready to rematerialize and strike fear when given the opportunity.
Our local production was a remarkable community effort, just as it was at Terezin, but given, of course, under very different circumstances and for different purposes: at the concentration camp, it was a way to entertain the children and give them chances to participate or watch, thereby immeasurably, if momentaritly, brightening their lives; in Bloomington, it also was an opportunity for children and adults to perform but, importantly, it served as a three-dimensional history lesson for cast and local audiences, a reminder of a horrible time that needs to be remembered.
The opera’s presence here made a powerful impression on me.
Well, the recent appearance in the marketplace of a CD recording of the opera led me to the decision that still another column needs to be spent on CDs for you to think about when giving holiday gifts to others or yourself. Last Sunday, I collected for you a set of CDs and books with some sort of connection to Bloomington: something presented here, premiered here, authored here.
“Brundibar” deserves a spot as I continue this roundup for a third Sunday (and last for a while). The CD comes from a performance given in 1985 at Freiburg’s St Ursula Secondary School in Germany. A Benedictine nun there, Maria Veronika Gruters, directed the production, having also translated the libretto from the original Czech and Hebrew into German, one we hear on the recording. In Bloomington, we had an English version created by playwright Tony Kushner.
What one hears on the CD has a rough-edge feel to it, which we, too, had, and which is appropriate and genuine because amateurs (mostly children) were meant to perform “Brundibar.” Once again, I was profoundly moved. (Christophorus)