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Opera Weekend Reprises Performances Born in Nazi Work Camp

Published on April 21, 2010

SELINSGROVE—Susquehanna University will honor the spirit of invincible artists under Nazi suppression with “Opera in Terezín: Performance as Protest,” a weekend of colorful opera and insightful discussion April 30 through May 2. Susquehanna’s Opera Studio and University Orchestra will offer three performances of “Brundibár” and “The Emperor of Atlantis,” two one-act operas composed and performed by Jewish detainees in the Czech concentration camp of Theresienstadt, or Terezín. Children’s author and Holocaust survivor Ela Stein Weissberger, who performed in “Brundibár” as a child at Terezín, will share her experiences with audiences throughout the weekend.

“Brundibár,” Hans Krása’s children’s opera about a young boy and girl who, with help, vanquish an evil organ grinder, was performed 55 times from 1943 to 1944 in Terezín, a deceptive “model village” of leading Jewish musicians, writers, artists and other celebrated figures created by the Nazis in 1941 as supposed evidence of their good will. “The Emperor of Atlantis” was composed by Viktor Ullmann, a leading musical figure in the community, and rehearsed in Terezín, but was not performed until 1975 in Amsterdam. Terezín housed enough players for two symphony orchestras, a lively chamber music and contemporary music scene, full productions of “Carmen” and “Tosca,” and Czech and German operas.

While Terezín was not intended as a death camp, tens of thousands of its inhabitants died of disease or malnutrition, and thousands more were transferred to Auschwitz or other extermination camps. Both Krasa and Ullmann, in fact, ultimately died at Auschwitz. Amid the oppression and death at Terezín, music nevertheless flourished and offered a potent message of hope.

The weekend’s special guest will be Weissberger, the only surviving cast member from all 55 performances of “Brundibár” at Terezín, in which she played the cat, and author of the children’s book, “The Cat With the Yellow Star.” Weissberger has been featured in Time magazine and on “60 Minutes,” and appears in the Emmy award-winning documentary, "Voices of the Children." She will sign copies of her book during intermission at each performance and give a short reading at 2:30 p.m. on May 2, as prelude to that day’s performance, which is tailored for young audiences.

“Brundibár” and “The Emperor of Atlantis” will be presented April 30 and May 1 at 8 p.m., and May 2 at 3 p .m. in the university’s Stretansky Concert Hall. Performances are sponsored by Susquehanna’s Department of Music, in cooperation with the Department of Theatre.

The companion discussion, “Opera and Resistance, Memory and Education,” exploring the two operas and the relationship between art and the Holocaust, will take place May 1 at 2 p.m. in the Charles B. Degenstein Campus Center’s Shearer Dining Rooms. David Imhoof, associate professor of history, and Laurence David Roth, professor of English and director of the Jewish Studies program, will moderate a discussion featuring Marcos Krieger, assistant professor of music; Doug Powers, associate professor of theatre; and Lissa Skitolsky, assistant professor of philosophy. Weissberger will be on hand to offer special insight. The panel is co-sponsored by the Department of English and Creative Writing, the Department of History, the Genocide Studies Fund and the Jewish Studies program.

All events are free and open to the public.

Founded in 1858, Susquehanna University is a national liberal arts college that prepares students for achievement, leadership and service in a diverse, interconnected world. Academic excellence, study away and service learning, student-faculty collaboration, and rich opportunities for creative and personal growth are hallmarks of a Susquehanna University education. Susquehanna students come from 36 states and 13 countries, and more than 90 percent of them find jobs or pursue graduate study within six months of graduation. The university is located in central Pennsylvania, in the town of Selinsgrove, along the banks of the scenic Susquehanna River and about three hours from major East Coast cultural, financial and recreational centers. For more information, visit www.susqu.edu.


Karen M. Jones


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