Halifax Theatre for Young People to stream opera once performed in Czech concentration camp

The 2019 production of the half-hour opera Brundibár, presented in English, will be presented online for 24-hours beginning on June 3

Members of the cast of the Halifax Theatre for Young People production of Brundibár. Photo by Terry Pulliam.
Members of the cast of the Halifax Theatre for Young People production of Brundibár. Photo by Terry Pulliam.

Like so many theatre companies around the world, the Halifax Theatre for Young People is going digital by presenting its 2019 production of Brundibár online.

The half-hour opera, presented in English, about children embracing the power of music and friendship, will stream for 24-hours beginning at 7:00 pm on June 3.

The Halifax Theatre for Young People production of Brundibár features a cast of 15 students from across HRM, performing with musicians Scott Macmillan and members of Symphony Nova Scotia, under the baton of conductor Eszter Horváth. Photo by Terry Pulliam
The Halifax Theatre for Young People production of Brundibár features a cast of 15 students from across the HRM. Photo by Terry Pulliam.

“With our spring programming cancelled due to COVID-19, and recognizing the need to keep our community connected, we are presenting this digital screening with a special behind the scenes introduction featuring the children who performed the show talking about their experience,” say organizers in a media release.

The opera tells the story of children who sing in the marketplace to raise money for their sick mother but are chased away by the organ player, Brundibár. With the help of animal and bird friends, as well as other children, they defeat Brundibár and continue to sing.

While the show itself is uplifting, the history around its performance is much less so.

Brundibár received its premiere in German-occupied Prague at the Jewish Orphanage before the mass deportations of Czech Jews to Theresienstadt concentration camp began in 1942.

According to the website holocaust.cz, the closing scenes of Brundibár were filmed in the summer of 1944 for the Nazi propaganda film Theresienstadt, better known under the title The Führer Has Given the Jews a Town. Photo: the children's company from the Theresienstadt from the Jewish Museum in Prague.
According to the website holocaust.cz, the closing scenes of Brundibár were filmed in the summer of 1944 for the Nazi propaganda film “Theresienstadt”, better known under the title “The Führer Has Given the Jews a Town”. Photo: the children’s company in the film Theresienstadt from the Jewish Museum in Prague.

At Theresienstadt, composer Hans Krása reconstructed the music for the available instruments from a smuggled copy of the score and it was performed 55 times inside the camp.

The opera became a source of hope and resistance to the prisoners until the children, the composer, director and musicians were sent to Auschwitz following the final performance.

“In this context, this light-hearted opera provides an excellent opportunity to introduce children and youth of all ages to the topic of the Holocaust and racial discrimination, and the need to work together to defeat oppression,” says director Tessa Mendel in the release.

The Merrit Award-nominated production features a cast of 15 students from across the Halifax Regional Municipality. They are joined by musicians Scott Macmillan and members of Symphony Nova Scotia, under the baton of conductor Eszter Horváth.

Halifax’s only full-time professional theatre company dedicated to serving the needs of young people, Halifax Theatre for Young People’s mandate is to create meaningful, engaging theatre experiences for young people and their families. Its spring productions, Mi’kmaq Stories: Past & Present, and Spelling 2-5-5, have been postponed and cancelled respectively, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Brundibár – a Digital Presentation will be available for 24-hours beginning at 7:30 pm (Atlantic Time) on June 3, 2020. Patrons can reserve tickets for free at tickethalifax.com and will receive an email with the link to stream the show on their device at home. While the performance is free, at-home audiences will have an opportunity to donate to the company.