Opera Camp 2013 opened early on July 29 with an orientation in the rehearsal rooms of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. The Senior Director of Education and Community Engagement, Dr. Stacy Brightman, introduced the two operas we would be performing, Brundibár and Friedl. Brundibár, the story of two children’s victory over an evil organ grinder, was written by Czech composer Hans Krása on the eve of World War II. Soon after writing the opera, Krása was transported to the Terezín concentration camp, and there, he reconstructed the score. The children in the camp performed Brundibár fifty-five times. Most of them, along with Krása, were later killed in the camps.
Friedl was composed by our director, Eli Villanueva, with a libretto by movement director Leslie Stevens. It is the story of Friedl Dicker-Brandeis, who secretly taught art to the children in Terezín. Before she was killed in Auschwitz-Birkenau, she hid away the children’s drawings in a suitcase, ensuring that at least their art would survive. Dr. Brightman concluded, “Their art was spiritual resistance. It was their way of retaining their humanity when the Nazis tried to strip it away.” We knew what she meant: our performances weren’t just shows we were putting on. They were fulfillments of our duties as fellow artists.
After the orientation, we kicked off camp with a movement session and music rehearsals. We learned the stirring, haunting Lullaby, sung by all the children of the village to drown out the songs of the titular organ grinder. What’s so unique and poignant about the Lullaby is that it’s a reversal of roles. While parents usually sing lullabies to their children, this Lullaby is sung by children to their mothers.
While the younger campers went for a scavenger hunt at the Music Center, we teens stayed back to begin rehearsing Friedl. Though some parts were tricky, the melodies and harmonies sounded gorgeous. During lunch, we started getting to know each other. It’s just wonderful hanging out and working with fellow music lovers my age—and at my favorite place on Earth, to boot!
Dr. Brightman spoke to us again after lunch, giving us more historical background. We discussed the fact that, in Friedl, we play actual historical people, and therefore we have a responsibility to them and their memory. “If we don’t tell the story, it makes it possible to happen again,” Dr. Brightman reminded us. After more rehearsals, we headed home to rest and review.
On Day 2, we went deeper into the previous day’s scenes and moved further into the music of Brundibár. Then, like the first day, we split up. The younger children went with Senior Director of Production, Rupert Hemmings, for a backstage tour of the Dorothy Chandler, while we teens rehearsed Friedl.
During that rehearsal, Eli conducted a very memorable exercise. To help Maddie (our Friedl) make her spoken lines more organic and natural, he had her try to sing them, then speak them as recitative. As an example, he treated us to an impromptu performance of Count Almaviva’s recitative from The Marriage of Figaro “Che imbarazzo è mai questo.” That was one of the highlights of camp so far!
As we went further into Friedl, though, the mood got more serious. As I listened to the blithe, cheery singing of the principals, my heart broke to think that so many of the lively, creative children depicted in the opera were silenced in the camps. It strengthened my resolve to do what Dr. Brightman had told us to do: honor their memory by passing on their story.
Lunch and a Brundibár staging rehearsal ended the second day of camp. In these two days of rehearsal, I’ve realized that it’s not like last year for me: like I said, as a complete singing newbie, it had been all about struggling to read the music or fighting to hit the right note. This year, though, I’m actually listening to the music, stepping back and hearing what it’s trying to say. I understand we have a responsibility as artists to do this, and act as ambassadors for history through art. And now, in Opera Camp 2013, I feel ready to take on this challenge.