Children star in UK Opera production , play originally performed during the Holocaust

By Brian Hancock

The UK Opera Theatre will present “Brundibar,” an opera originally performed by children during the Holocaust, Friday at 10 a.m. in the Singletary Center for the Arts.

The opera was performed 55 separate times by children at the Theresienstadt Concentration Camp, beginning in 1943. Its script was written in 1938 by Polish composer Hans Krasa.

Krasa wrote the piece for a contest, which was eventually canceled when the Nazis invaded. After he was transported to Theresienstadt, Krasa rewrote the opera and cast it with children at the camp.

The story begins with two children trying to raise money for their sick mother. They sing in the streets, but Brundibar, an evil organ grinder, chases them out of town.

Eventually, a cat, bird, dog and group of children help the two kids sing over Brundibar so that they can collect enough money for their mother.

The story became a source of hope for the people of the camp.

Friday, “Brundibar” will be put on by a cast of 50 children from 26 different grade schools in the Lexington community.

Seventh graders from Fayette County Public Schools will be in attendance.

Holocaust survivor and original cast member Ela Weissberger will join them. Weissberger played the cat in the original production, and will be on hand to speak to the audience.

“Ela is an amazing lady,” Richard Kagey, the show’s director, said. “She absolutely mesmerized the cast the other night at rehearsal.”

Kagey, who works a full-time freelance director, has directed or designed more than 150 operas all across the country. He said casting for the production began in late October, and rehearsal has been ongoing since January.

“I find this piece fascinating musically and because of its connection to the Holocaust,” he said. “It is an amazing tribute to the people who survived.”

Weissberger, now 80, continues to travel telling her story.

“I travel very often,” she said. “For the last 25 years, I’ve been all around the world.”

Weissburger has been living in Tappan, N.Y., since 1958. She says she speaks for the friends she lost.

“I hope that those who listen to what I have to say will not forget my friends in the coming years,” Weissburger said. “I became their voice.”

“Brundibar” will also be presented to the public at 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. on Sunday. Weissburger will speak to audiences following each production.

Tickets are $18 for general admission.