Brundibar: Hal France, Conductor

Nov 2, 2009

Tomorrow we begin the student performances of Brundibár. The Rose is the absolutely perfect stage and best theater in Omaha for us to do Brundibár. Being part of the group that organized this excellent project, we were thrilled when Julie and James at Omaha’s Theater Company for Young People found these great dates for our production. We are all very grateful for the help and support of the theater.

Brundibár is a project that I hoped the Omaha community would experience. Going back to the late 90’s, I thought it would be a great thing for Opera Omaha to do at the Rose Theater. Our upcoming shows, 11 in all, are just a fantastic thing! Not easy to say how many people and organizations have helped make this happen.

I would start by mentioning the brainstorming and activism of Eunie and Debbie Denenberg and Fred Simon (they call him Freddy, but I don’t dare). Through their efforts the Institute for Holocaust Education and the very resourceful Beth Seldin Dotan began to consider a run of performances of this opera for middle school audiences. The opera is of itself a marvelous children’s fable about the importance of friends when dealing with great trouble. The trouble is Brundibár, the organ grinder, who monopolizes the performance of music in a small town. Sounds innocent, but the tactics of well organized bullies in a fable is intended to bring to mind governmental dictators. The history of Brundibár at Terezín in Czechoslovakia where thousands of Jews were held and eventually sent to Auschwitz during the Holocaust makes it impossible to not think of the Nazis and of Hitler when considering the plot of the opera.

I should mention, that last year, the Omaha Conservatory under the direction of Ruth Meints and Cindy Sloan, did a production of Brundibár using young instrumentalists as the cast. They did a nice performance at the JCC. As far as I know, it was the first time it was performed in Omaha.

One of the many good things that happened on the way to our performances this week was the joining of Opera Omaha’s new General Director, John Wehrle to the team. Through then Board President Kim Simon and other communicators, John heard about our idea and embraced it. We never could have done this kind of show without the skill and talent of Opera Omaha’s excellent staff: Mark, Brad, Blythe, Tara, Jen, Sarah, Joe, J., Kelly, Maggie, and Tom,… forgive me if I’m forgetting someone.

Beth along with Eunie and Debbie made contact with Ela Weissberger over a year ago and invited her to be a part of these presentations to Omaha Middle Schools. Ela is a remarkable woman who originally played the role of the Cat in Terezín. She has been present at many productions of Brundibár, adding her perspective to the experience for many who have just seen the opera. We are so fortunate that she will speak with our audiences about her experience of the Holocaust, Terezín, her family, her fellow cast members, etc. At the end of every presentation, the company will perform an encore of the Victory March with Ela and the entire cast.

Up high on the list of good things, also the marvelous audition turnout we had in the spring when many of our cast members were selected. They’ve been a fabulous group to work with.

Our orchestra was put together by J. Gawf who keeps on getting better in everything he does for opera in Omaha. We have an orchestra of 16 players, nine professionals and eight young players who study violin with Anne Nagosky. Anne is our concertmaster and we couldn’t be luckier to have some of her many students playing with us.

Karen Spurck and her choir from Morton Middle School heard about the production and joined us in early September. They’ve added so much to the production and have been great to work with. We are grateful to Karen!

David Ward a splendid singer and actor from the national ranks of opera professionals is taking the role of Brundibár and bringing great humor and theatrical flair to it.

We were also amazed that the National Humanities Conference was coming to Omaha exactly the week of Brundibár. This subject and project is a perfect match for that group of national leaders in the humanities. We hope many will be present at our final show.

Finally, our stage director Helena Binder began shaping the production and the staging last week. Her energy, passion, spark and playfulness are perfect for this show! A former dancer, she’s demonstrates the movements of the cat, the dog and the sparrow particularly well. All the performers and our whole show are in great hands.

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