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See 'Brundibár,' once performed by Holocaust victims, in Reading for free

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Posted: Sunday, April 29, 2012 10:41 pm | Updated: 1:18 pm, Fri May 4, 2012.

The Berks County community is invited to a free musical event, "Brundibár," on Sunday, May 6, beginning at 3 p.m. in the Sovereign Performing Arts Center in downtown Reading.

The performance will feature members of Reading Symphony Orchestra, Berks Classical Children’s Chorus, and Berks Opera Workshop. There is one performance.

Sovereign Performing Arts Center is at 136 N. Sixth Street. Parking is available throughout the city or at the Poplar & Walnut Street Garage.

The opera, about 50 minutes long, is appropriate for families with school age children; the printed program and introduction position the work in its historical context.

Immediately following the performance, the audience is invited to stay for the Berks Classical Children’s Chorus 20th Anniversary Concert, beginning at 4:30 p.m. There is no admission charge for either performance.

"Brundibár" is a children’s opera written by Czech composer Hans Krása. During the Nazi Holocaust, the opera was performed 55 times in the Theresienstadt (Terezin) ghetto, north of Prague in Czechoslovakia.

The Nazis used the camp to imprison Jews from Nov. 24, 1941 until it was liberated by Soviet troops on May 9, 1945. Of the approximately 140,000 Jews who were interned in Terezin, fewer than 20,000 survived.

About 90,000 of the prisoners were sent on to Auschwitz-Birkenau, where the vast majority perished upon arrival. An additional 33,000 people were known to have died in Terezin during their internment of disease, malnutrition, abuse by their captors or murder.

Of the 15,000 children who passed through Terezin, only about 300 survived.

The performance is part of The Theresienstadt Project and is made possible in part by a grant from the Oritsky/Skaist Family Fund and Reading Musical Foundation.

The Theresienstadt Project is an unprecedented collaboration between the Jewish Federation of Reading, Reading Public Museum and the Reading Symphony Orchestra along with Fleetwood Area High School and Holocaust Library and Resource Center at Albright College.

For more information regarding Brundibár, call Reading Symphony Orchestra at 610-373-7557 or visit their website www.ReadingSymphony.org.

Brundibár and The Theresienstadt Project

The Theresienstadt Project is an unprecedented collaboration between the Jewish Federation of Reading, Reading Public Museum and the Reading Symphony Orchestra along with Fleetwood Area High School, Holocaust Library and Resource Center at Albright College, Berks Classical Children’s Chorus and Berks Opera Workshop. The events spanned three months and included a major exhibition of children’s art, several documentary films, lectures and readings, a Yom Hashoah memorial concert and the children’s opera, Brundibár.

The Performance

Conductor

Daniel Chetel began his appointment as music director and conductor of the Central Kentucky Youth Orchestra with the 2011-2012 season. He previously served as the Assistant Conductor for the University of Kentucky Symphony Orchestra, UK Opera Theatre, and the Central Kentucky Youth Orchestra. Chetel has conducted the UK Symphony Orchestra at subscription concerts and special educational outreach events.

Originally from Massachusetts, Chetel holds a B.A. from Harvard University and an M.M. degree from the University of Maryland School of Music. He is currently a D.M.A. candidate at the University of Kentucky School of Music where he teaches undergraduate conducting.

Performers

Lauren Curnow (Pepicek) holds masters degrees in music and opera performance from The Juilliard School and The Curtis Institute of Music, respectively, and a BA from Muhlenberg College in Theater Arts and English, where she is currently on the faculty.

Anna Baker (Aninka) is a senior at the Lehigh Valley Charter School for the Performing Arts and is the winner of the Classical Singer High School Regional Competition in Philadelphia. Her future plans include attending North Central University in Minneapolis to major in vocal performance and minor in music business. She will be singing in the finals in Chicago in May. Brundibár is her first professional opera.

Lawrence Indik (Brundibár) regularly performs as a soloist and recitalist throughout the United States. He has performed a wide range of repertoire including oratorio, chamber music and solo song repertoire and has also appeared in numerous operatic roles. An active member of the Philadelphia music community, he performs often in the area’s new music venues and has premiered over seventy new works by contemporary composers.

He received his Bachelor of Arts in Mathematics cum laude from Harvard University, a Masters in Opera Performance from the Temple University Esther Boyer College of Music and a Doctor of Musical Arts degree from the Manhattan School of Music.

Adam Kissinger (Ice Cream Man) is a theatre artist and emotion coach from Berks County. Currently he is the technical director for Kutztown University’s Theatre Department, a member of Metamorphosis Performing Company, a staff member with the Yocum Institute for Arts Education, an ensemble affiliate with Touchstone Theatre in Bethlehem, and a founding member of the new theatre company Utsa Butze. His BA is in theatre from Kutztown University, and he is a certified Alba Emoting instructor.

James Damore (Milkman), a freshman at Exeter High School, has appeared as a chorus member in La Bohème and Amahl and the Night Visitors with BOW. He received the Reading Musical Foundation’s Middle School Vocal Scholarship in 2011 and 2012. He is involved in Exeter’s Concert Choir, Honors Choir and Eagleaires, and has participated in Berks Junior County Chorus for three years. James has also sung and acted in numerous musicals, including Oklahoma, Aida, and Guys and Dolls. This past December, he was a member of the choir of the Candlelight Processional in Epcot.

Jared Sherman (Baker) has been singing and acting since a very young age and was a part of selected Boyertown Area Choirs and Chamber singers from elementary school through Senior high. Two of his favorite roles were played at Boyertown Senior High as Gaston in Beauty and The Beast (for which he received the 2007 YNOT award for best supporting actor and best male vocal performance), and Enjolras in Les Miserables. He has also played supporting roles in Oklahoma, Guys and Dolls, and Penderan’s Bliss. With BOW he has participated in The Magic Flute, La Bohème, and Amahl and the Night Visitors. He is also a part time model and a student at Northampton Community College.

Matthew Samluk (policeman) is quickly gaining recognition as a local young artist on both the operatic and concert stages and has been praised for his “distinctive sound and powerful delivery.” He has appeared with BOW and Oberlin in Italy in roles such as Colline in La Bohème, Leporello and the Commendatore in Don Giovanni, Melchior in Amahl and the Night Visitors, and Athanaël in Massenet’s Thaïs.

Julia Kershetsky (Sparrow) recently graduated from Penn State University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Music Performance. Penn State Opera Theatre roles include Miss Todd in The Old Maid and the Thief, Susanna in The Marriage of Figaro, Gretel (cover) in Hansel and Gretel, Lucy in The Telephone, and the First Nymph in L’Orfeo.

For Kaley Harmon (Cat), a junior at Antietam Middle-Senior High School, this is her first opera. She has been in many plays and musicals throughout the community and in her school. Her previous roles include Maria in The Sound of Music, Miss Dorothy in Thoroughly Modern Millie, and most recently, Grace in Annie.

Lyle Ingram (Dog) has performed with BOW as Rodolfo in La Bohème, Tamino in The Magic Flute, Kaspar in Amahl and the Night Visitors, Don Ottavio in Don Giovanni and the title role in Orpheus in the Underworld. He has also sung Lippo Fiorentino in Kurt Weil’s Street Scene and Slender in Merry Wives of Windsor. Mr. Ingram is a graduate of the University of Delaware and has studied voice with Francine Black, Patrick Marques, and Marie Robinson.

The Story of Brundibár

Brundibár is the story of two children who are trying to secure money to buy milk for their sick mother. They encounter an evil organ grinder named Brundibár who throws them out of the town square. The children overcome the bully with the help of a bird, a cat and a dog and return home, triumphant.

About the Opera

Brundibár was written in 1938-39 by Czech composer Hans Krása with lyrics by Adolf Hoffmeister as an entry for a children’s opera competition. The opera was scripted for an all children’s cast and tells the classic story of good overcoming evil. Brundibár was first performed in 1942 at a Jewish orphanage in Prague before the mass transports of Bohemian and Moravian Jews began.

By 1943, Krása and most of the musicians and cast of children were transported from the orphanage to Theresienstadt, a ghetto/concentration camp and stopping point for thousands who were later sent on to the death camps.

At Theresienstadt, Krása decided to revive Brundibár as a way to distract himself and the children from the fear and depravity they faced every day. The Germans allowed music and the arts in the camp as it helped them to further the public deception that this was a “spa town” and that its residents enjoyed life in the model ghetto. The children in the cast were especially fond of wearing the costumes; the only time they were not forced to wear a yellow Jewish star.

In 1941, the Nazis decreed that all Jews, 6 years and older, be required to wear a yellow Jewish star with the word “Jew” written on it. The tactic was used to humiliate the Jews and target them for ongoing persecution. One survivor described those moments in costume as, “a couple of minutes of freedom.”

Brundibár was performed 55 times in Theresienstadt between 1943 and May 8, 1945, when the camp was liberated by Soviet troops. Of the 141,000 Jews sent to Theresienstadt, only 16,832 human beings remained at the time of the liberation.

Of the 15,000 children under the age of 15 who passed through Theresienstadt concentration camp from 1942-1944, only about 300 survived.

The Red Cross Visit

Pressured by the international community following the deportation of Danish Jews to Theresienstadt, the Germans agreed to allow representatives from the Red Cross to visit the “model village” on June 23, 1944. In advance of the visit, the Germans stepped up deportations from the ghetto to alleviate crowding and furthered the hoax by painting the houses and barracks, planting flowers and renovating the buildings. Music and cultural events were planned for the visitors in an attempt to further disguise the true conditions in the ghetto. Perhaps the most well-known and documented performance of Brundibár was during the Red Cross visit.

Film footage from the performance later became part of a Nazi propaganda film that the German authorities created but never distributed. Most of the cast of the film were shipped to Auschwitz-Birkenau at the conclusion of the filming, where they were murdered.

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