Indianapolis Opera will make a little history this month when it presents the world premiere double bill of “Brundibar” and “Vedem.”
The three performances are set for March 18-20 at The Toby Theater at Newfields in Indianapolis. The production was originally planned for April 2020 but was postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Then we planned to do it last year, but things hadn’t opened up enough,” said Alfred Savia, Indy Opera principal guest conductor and artistic advisor.
Savia said funding for the production was raised two years ago and is underwritten by sponsors.
The two big parts in “Vedem” will be sung by tenor Joseph McBrayer and mezzo Cornelia Lotito. It is the first collaboration between Indy Opera and the Indianapolis Children’s Choir, which will be featured in both “Brundibar” and Vedem.”
The project is presented in remembrance of the Holocaust and the 77th anniversary of the liberation of concentration camps across Europe. The works revolve around the Terezin camp and the children’s lives affected by it.
“Brundibar,” the children’s opera, is a parable of hope and justice. It was written by Jewish Czech composer Hans Krása and librettist Adolf Hoffmeister in 1938 in the ghettos of Prague. The opera was performed 55 times by the children of the Nazi concentration camp Terezin, under the direction of Jewish music teachers.
“It’s about two little children who have a sick mother, and they try to get money,” Savia said. “They try to imitate Brundibar, who is an organ grinder, on the street. Brundibar is not happy and chases them away. With the help of a dog, a cat, a sparrow and other children, they overcome Brundibar.
“It’s a light little children’s opera. When the kids were happy at the camp is when they were performing.”
The Nazis used Jewish youth performing “Brundibar” in Terezin as propaganda for Red Cross visits, allegedly showing a model ghetto.
For the first time, “Brundibar” will be paired with another historic work, “Vedem,” a theatrical oratorio that describes the events experienced at Terezin during the Holocaust.
“Vedem” was written by Lori Laitman, an American composer of Jewish heritage. It is the first piece composed by a female composer to be performed with the company. The story is about a group of boys living in Terezin and their underground newspaper of poetry and essays called “Vedem,” which is Czech for “In the Lead.”
“It’s a very poignant piece and it’s a very serious piece,” Savia said.
Savia said Laitman will attend for the last rehearsal and the first performances.
“‘Vedem’ is musically a very big challenge,” Savia said. “It’s a 21st-century score with difficult things. We have our work cut out for us.”
Indy Opera has partnered with the Jewish Community Center and Indianapolis Arts Council to bring an evening of music and discussion to the Indianapolis Artsgarden at 6 to 8 p.m. March 2. The panel, featuring Holocaust survivor Frank Grunwald, director Matt Cooksey, Savia and general director David Craig Starkey, will discuss the music and historical context of “Brundibar” and “Vedem.” The event also will feature a brief film screening, a traveling art exhibit of children’s artwork from Terezin and Eva Kor virtual reality headsets from the Indiana Historical Society.
For more, visit indyopera.org and holocaustmusic.ort.org/places/theresienstadt/brundibar/.