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ClassicsOnline Home » KRASA: Brundibar / LAITMAN: I Never Saw Another Butterfly
Brundibár is part of an inspiring human legacy. Hans Krása’s beautiful children’s opera, performed 55
times at the Terezín concentration camp, stands as a memorial to its original performers, the child inmates
of Terezín. Tony Kushner’s acclaimed new English libretto, which receives its world première recording
here, brings a modern vibrancy to Brundibár’s story about the triumph of good over evil, and the power
of friendship to change the world. Contemporary American composer Lori Laitman’s powerful song cycle
I Never Saw Another Butterfly captures the voices of six extraordinary poems by Terezín’s child prisoners.
Krása’s and Laitman’s works are a deep tribute to the human spirit. They honor the lives and legacy of
those remarkable persons – especially children – whose creative work was an expression of spiritual
resistance to tyranny. Produced by Music of Remembrance, a Seattle-based non-profit organization
dedicated to remembering Holocaust musicians through their art (www.musicofremembrance.org).
By Edith Eisler
By David Denton
Hans Krása (1899-1944)
Brundibár (1943) • Overture for Small Orchestra
Cast Information on Brundibár (1938, re-scored 1943)
Czech libretto by Adolf Hoffmeister, English adaptation by Tony Kushner
Erich Parce, Stage Director
World première recording of the Tony Kushner libretto
Cast (in order of appearance)
Pepíček - Ross Hauck
Aninku - Maureen McKay
Ice Cream Seller - Jesse Parce
Baker - Evan Woltz
Milkman - Jadd Davis
Policeman - Michael Drumheller
Brundibár - Morgan Smith
Sparrow - Holly Boaz
Cat - David Korn
Dog - Auston James
Northwest Boychoir (Joseph Crnko, Chorus-master)
Music of Remembrance
Gerard Schwarz, Conductor
The fate of children in the Holocaust represents a uniquely haunting tragedy. It has been estimated that over one million children were murdered under Nazi rule. Children had even smaller chances of surviving than adults. In the ghettos they were especially vulnerable to disease and starvation. Not considered useful for forced labor, children were commonly selected for execution as soon as they arrived at the camps. At the Terezín concentration camp alone, 15,000 children under the age of fifteen passed through the gates between 1942 and 1944. Perhaps fewer than 100 of them were alive at the war's end. Yet, remarkably, many of Terezín's children were part of an inspiring creative legacy. In this recording we remember those children through the words they wrote, and the music they sang.
Music of Remembrance Artistic Director
Hans Krása (1899-1944) came of age in his native Prague, which was a major crossroads during a watershed period of European musical life. If his early promise had not been cut short by World War II and the Holocaust, Krása might have continued emerging as an influential composer of his generation.
Overture for Small Orchestra was composed at the height of Brundibár's popularity at the camp, and there has been speculation that he intended it as an introduction to the children's opera. The overture is scored for 2 clarinets, 2 trumpets, 4 violins, 2 violas, 2 celli, and piano. With the exception of the violas, the work's instrumentation is similar to the opera, and contains at least one melodic parallel. Survivors from Terezín have recalled that Krása was ordered to compose the work by the camp's Nazi authorities, who thought that Brundibár – like any opera – required an overture. However, there exists no evidence that the overture was ever performed at Terezín, and Krása's intent for it remains unclear.
Brundibár is known today as the children's opera that was performed 55 times at the Terezín concentration camp near Prague. Its casts needed constant replenishing when the child performers were transported to death camps after most shows. Although the Nazis exploited Brundibár in propaganda intended to convince the world of their benign treatment of Terezín's inmates, nearly all of the children who performed in the opera were deported to Auschwitz and died in the gas chambers.
In 1992 Brundibár was republished, and since then the opera has been performed at least 100 times across Europe and the Americas. More than sixty years after Terezín, Brundibár continues to speak to people of all ages through its story, music and legacy. In 2003, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Tony Kushner and illustrator Maurice Sendak collaborated on a striking picture book of the Brundibár tale, and this has become the basis for a new production of the opera using Kushner's English-language libretto.
Tony Kushner offers the following remarks:
In 1938, the Czech Ministry of Education and Culture sponsored a competition for a children's opera. Among those vying for the prize was a 40-year-old Prague composer, Hans Krása, whose entry, libretto by the playwright Adolf Hoffmeister, was Brundibár (the word is Czech for bumblebee).
I haven't been able to find out whether Brundibár won the competition or whether the competition was ever concluded. A few months after the opera was completed the German army invaded and occupied Czechoslovakia. Krása, who was Jewish, would have been barred from participation in such a contest, his music unperformable before a general audience according to Nazi race laws. Brundibár was not given its première until 1942 at the Vinohrady Jewish Boys' Orphanage, which had become a concert and recital hall for the Jews of the Prague ghetto. Before the first performance, Krása, as well as the opera's conductor, Rafael Schaechter, were arrested and sent in the first transport of Prague Jews to Theresienstadt, or Terezín, the Nazi's "model ghetto" for the Jews of Central Bohemia—in reality a concentration camp and a way station for the death camps of Auschwitz, Birkenau, Treblinka.
In spite of the arrests, Brundibár was performed at the Vinohrady Orphanage, conducted by Rudolph Freudenfeld, son of the orphanage's director. The piece was given three performances before the transports rounded up Freudenfeld father and son, director and designer František Zelenka, pianist Gideon Klein, who had been the accompanist, and the boys of the Vinohrady Orphanage.
Rudolph Freudenfeld had hidden a copy of the piano score in his luggage, and so Brundibár arrived in Terezín, where Krása was now the inmate in charge of music for the Freizeitgestaltung (Free Time Activities Administration). Krása brilliantly re-orchestrated the piano score, taking advantage of the presence in Terezín of a number of talented instrumentalists. In September 1943, the Vinohrady group, now concentration camp inmates, staged a new, co-ed production, cast with imprisoned children. The opera became a hit among the inmate population: Rudolph Freudenfeld conducted, Zelenka directed and designed a new set, the poet Emil Saudek wrote a new anthem for the opera's finale, emphasizing Brundibár's political value as allegory—in photos of the production the boy playing Brundibár is wearing a mustache, which, though more of the handlebar than toothbrush variety, surely made its point.
Brundibár was performed 55 times at Terezín. It was begun by Jews for Jews, but before long the camp officials recognized the propaganda potential of Brundibár, with its singing prisoner children and "happy" (or at least momentarily distracted) prisoner audiences. The opera was performed for the International Red Cross committee of one (an inexperienced young man, utterly charmed and duped by the Nazi commandant) sent to inspect camp conditions. Segments of the performance were filmed and included in the film Der Führer schenkt den Juden eine Stadt (The Führer Gives the Jews a City), produced by the Nazis and directed by a camp inmate, the great actor and singer Kurt Gerron.
The opera's director and designer, the poet Saudek, Kurt Gerron and nearly all the children who performed Brundibár—including Honza Treichlinger, the boy who became a Terezín celebrity for creating the title role of the wicked organ grinder—were eventually sent to Auschwitz where they were murdered. Hans Krása died in the gas chambers of Auschwitz in October 1944.
Brundibár is a beautiful children's story, extolling the virtues of courage, cooperation and collective action against tyranny. Even the natural world of dogs, cats, and sparrows rises up in outrage and rebellion against injustice, poverty and the suffering of children. It's a tale of the power of music to make miracles happen. It's a story of good defeating evil. But its beauty is haunted, for Brundibár comes from one of the darkest points in human history, when evil, at least for a time, was triumphant over good, and millions upon millions died.
One could say ultimately the music has triumphed: today Brundibár is performed all over the world, and the Jewish people have survived, endured, flourished. On the other hand, one must always be wary of drawing false reassurances from the horrific lessons of the Holocaust, perhaps especially now, when children all over the world are in such mortal danger—poor children, children in war zones, Jewish and Palestinian children, as well as homeless, uninsured, unprotected children in the United States. In dark times such as these, Brundibár, both the opera and its tragic history, shouldn't offer us too much reassurance. We shouldn't draw comfort from the fact that, even after the worst has happened, people and art survive, because after all, only some people survive, while many are lost, and some art is salvaged, but much creative brilliance, like Hans Krása's, is extinguished before its time; and what the world loses can't be recovered.
Instead of false comfort, Brundibár offers inspiration to action, and exhortation. Be brave, and you can make bullies behave! Rely on friends! Make common cause, build communities, organize, and resist! And tyrants of all kinds, in every generation, can be and must be made to fall.
About this Recording
This is the first commercially-released recording of Brundibár with Tony Kushner's brilliant libretto. While faithful to the opera's musical idiom and its magical children's tale of triumph over evil, Kushner employs a language that gives Brundibár an immediacy for today's audiences. Kushner makes Brundibár himself more three-dimensional, expanding the villainous organ grinder's first song so that he can explain how he became a bully. Kushner also restores the haunting "Airplane Song" that Krása cut from the Terezín version —possibly for concern that the song's yearning for a return home would be too painful to bear. Kushner's libretto preserves the work's sense of miracle, but its chilling epilogue also cautions against false reassurance that the struggle against evil is ever finished.
At Terezín, all 55 performances were cast entirely with children, though excellent adult singers were available. The Kushner adaptation has been produced with adults in the solo roles, but with the young heroes Pepíček and Aninku still sung by children. This recording, however, uses young adult voices for all solo roles, including a soprano Aninku and a tenor Pepíček, along with a boy choir. The recording, made in Seattle on 15 May 2006, uses the performers from Music of Remembrance's live performances of 8 and 9 May 2006, in a fully-staged presentation directed by Erich Parce.
Aninku and Pepíček's mother is sick, so they go to the market to buy her some milk. They have no money, but they notice that whenever the organ-grinder Brundibár plays music, passers-by give him money. Aninku and Pepíček sing two songs, but nobody listens. They try dancing to Brundibár's music, but the organ-grinder chases them away, loudly declaring his dislike for children and his pride in being a bully.
Night comes. The two children are frightened and stumped. How can they overcome Brundibár and earn the money to buy milk? A sparrow, a cat, and a dog appear, and help work out a plan with Aninku and Pepíček. The next morning, they enlist all of the village children in forming a large choir. While the children sing, the animals attack Brundibár, and together they drown out the organ-grinder's music. A crowd gathers, and before long Pepíček's milk pail is full of coins. Brundibár demands a cut of the children's income, but they chase him away. Aninku and Pepíček buy their milk, and everyone celebrates the power of friends working together to overthrow tyrants.
Lori Laitman (b. 1955)
I Never Saw Another Butterfly
Lori Laitman is an acclaimed creator of art songs performed in the United States and abroad. She received her Bachelor of Arts and Masters in music from Yale University. Since 1991, Laitman has worked with many contemporary poets, as well as setting classic poets such as Emily Dickinson. Her three CDs are available on Albany Records: Mystery—The Songs of Lori Laitman, Dreaming, and Becoming a Redwood. The Cleveland Opera presented the world première of her opera Come to Me in Dreams in 2004. Several of Laitman's song cycles have had their première at Music of Remembrance: Holocaust 1944 (November 2000), Fathers (April 2003), and The Seed of Dream (May 2005, a MOR commission). This is the première recording of Laitman's soprano and clarinet version of I Never Saw Another Butterfly.
Lori Laitman offers the following remarks:
The Butterfly opens the cycle with a cantorial-style part, conjuring up images of a fluttering butterfly. The vocal line enters with speech-based rhythms that are melodic and lyric. The long clarinet interlude symbolizes the freedom of the butterfly. The poem was written by Pavel Friedmann, who was born on 7 January 1921, deported to Terezín on 26 April 1942, and died in Auschwitz on 29 September 1944. Despite the tremendous sadness of the text, the message of the poem is one of undying spirit.
Yes, That's the Way Things Are was written by three children—Košek, Löwy, and Bachner, who wrote under the name "Koleba." Reflecting the irony of the poem, the music has a quasi-folk song feel—a dancing, shifting rhythm, and a modal melody switching between a minor and major seventh, typical of Jewish folk song. Miroslav Košek was born on 30 March 1932, at Horelice in Bohemia and was sent to Terezín on 15 February 1942. He died 19 October 1944, at Auschwitz. Hanus Löwy was born in Ostrava on 29 June 1931, deported to Terezín on 30 September 1942, and died in Auschwitz on 4 October 1944. There is no information on Bachner.
The author of Birdsong is unknown. In this poem, the author is able to rise above the living conditions to focus on the loveliness of life. Ascending phrases are used to portray hope.
The Garden was written by Franta Bass, born in Brno on 4 September 1930. He was sent to Terezín on 2 December 1941, and died in Auschwitz on 28 October 1944. The little boy walking along the garden path is portrayed by a weaving clarinet part with subtle rhythmic changes.
Man Proposes, God Disposes was also written by the three children who signed their name "Koleba." This text is a commentary on what used to be, and what is. Like a cabaret song, the vocal line uses a simple melody, and ends each section with a glissando.
The Old House, also written by Franta Bass, ends the cycle. The barren image of the deserted house is captured by the clarinet repeatedly playing one note, like a bell tolling. The voice and clarinet become more expressive as the poet recalls happier days, but then return to the opening texture.
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