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L.A. Opera's summer camp: Putting on a show

August 12, 2011 | 11:41 am

Cassidy O'Connell and Samuel Bindschadler at L.A. Opera's Opera Camp
This month, 50 children ages 9 through 17 have been learning a complete opera and will perform it four times this weekend at the Barnsdall Gallery Theatre. The budding performers are preparing "Brundibar" at L.A. Opera's two-week Opera Camp. This summer marks the return of the camp after a two-year hiatus due to funding issues.

The students also are learning that the 35-minute "Brundibar" was performed 55 times by many of the youths at the Nazi concentration camp at Terezin, Czechoslovakia, –- before most were transported to their deaths. The camp interned 15,000 children from 1941 to 1945; only 100 survived, according to most estimates. 

"A Czech Jew named Hans Krasa wrote the opera that was smuggled into the camp Terezin, also known as Theresienstadt," said Samuel Bindschadler, 12, of Venice, an avid opera fan. "The Nazis made it look like a nice place. They painted the place and planted flowers."

Read the full story on L.A. Opera's Opera Camp

In reality, Terezin was a "transit camp" for Jews, dissidents and others thought to be "undesirable" -- a holding area en route to Auschwitz and other death camps. In accommodating musicians and artists, Terezin was intended to create the impression that the internees were well-treated.

Samuel will play the role of Joe. In the story, he and little sister Annette must sing for tips in order to buy milk for their ailing mother. Brunidbar, a greedy organ grinder, tries to drive them out, but the children and their friends, including a dog, a cat and a sparrow, triumph over him.

On a recent day at camp, Samuel jumped up during lunchtime to give a preview performance. "Milk and cream the jolly milk man gladly pours into your milk can!" he sang while skipping in circles. He said his favorite camp activity is the stage movement and expression class. 

Campers also spend considerable time in vocal rehearsals. Brundibar has been described as Kurt Weill-esque and similar to cabaret tunes of the 1930s, with innocent melodies and disturbing harmonies.

The music made the opera popular, according to Czech musician Alexander Goldscheider, not just its "fairy-tale victory of good over evil." In the liner notes for a 1991 album on music from Terezin, he wrote, "Brundibar had all the makings of a successful modern [children's] opera ... most importantly, 'hit' music.  Everyone in Terezin knew its melodies, you could hear them sung, whistled, hummed everywhere ..."

Each Opera Camp performance is to feature a five-piece orchestra conducted by James Conlon, L.A. Opera's music director. The presentation of "Brundibar "corresponds with his acclaimed Recovered Voices project that brings to light the compositions of artists who had been silenced during the Holocaust.

Click here for the full story on Opera Camp.

RELATED:

L.A. Opera's Recovered Voices productions released on DVD

Critic's Notebook: Recovered Voices -- the Nazis lost this battle too

L.A. Opera's Recovered Voices to go quiet in 2010-11

-- Daina Beth Solomon

"Brundibar"; Barnsdall Gallery Theatre, 4800 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles; 11:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. Aug. 13 and Aug. 14; Free tickets with $1 handling charge; (213) 972-8001 or www.laopera.com.

Photo: Cassidy O'Connell and Samuel Bindschadler during rehearsal at Opera Camp, a program of L.A. Opera. Credit: Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times

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