Petite Opera Brundibár A Moving Experience for Patrons

by Susan Baushke, Executive Director

Sir Nicholas Winton

It’s been almost a year now, but it seems like yesterday.  Petite Opera was proud to bring this event to Chicagoland, and we hope the spirit of it continues to live on.  
This post is dedicated to the outstanding spirit and dedication of Sir Nicholas Winton who passed away July 1, 2015 at the age of 106.  He helped arrange for transports for children from Terezin and helped them find adopted homes in Britain.  His daughter, Barbara Winton, spoke at our November 15, 2014 performance. of Brundibár. Sir Nicholas–your spirit lives on in the lives you saved, and the lives you touched.

Daffodils have the appearance of the Jewish star.
With their faces shining up toward heaven, they
remind us of the children whose lives were lost
during the Holocaust.

From the moment we cast Brundibár with 20 Chicago-area children, and received word that Ela Weissberger, (the Holocaust survivor who played the Cat in the original production in Terezin), had agreed to join us for nearly the entire month of November, speaking and appearing in in
our eight performances, the Petite Opera family was in high gear.  We
wanted to make certain that we offered an incredible opportunity for
children to perform in an opera, and to become part of living history.
 We wanted to share Ela’s story and help her remember her friends lost
to the Holocaust, and we wanted to elevate the importance of this
important work in a way that would truly touch patrons.

With the help of an incredible group of volunteers, some key donors, devoted media team, staff, crew and cast, the countless hours paid off.  The media saw the the significance of the work, and spread the word like wildfire.  

Chicago Tribune, Barbara Brotman
WGN-TV, Amy Rutledge
Chicago Tribune, Brian Cox
WNPR, Cheryl Corley

Patrons called their friends, and attended in groups from faith communities and schools. Inter-generational families, families with young children poured in, each hoping to connect to the story and to hear Ela, to hear her story personally as one of the few remaining Holocaust survivors, and last living cast member. We wanted to reach new opera-goers, and expose as many people as possible to this story, and this wonderful opera.  Over 85% of those in the audience saw Brundibár for the first time.  Many of those counted Brundibár as their first-ever opera experience. 

Touching, yes, Memorable, yes.  A high percentage of every audience sought out Petite Opera staff, thanking us for putting on this production that touched them so deeply.  There were standing ovations, tears, and warm hugs after each performance–often from those who had been total strangers before the performance.

Patrons have been writing us about their experiences, and have agreed to let us share them with you.  Several are shown below.  These are just as sampling of those we received:

Dear Petite Opera,

I read about Petite Opera and its production of Brundibar in Barbara Brotman’s Nov 3 Tribune story.  Lucky for me that I did.  Upon reading her column, I immediately jumped online to purchase two tickets for what sounded like a special experience.  

I attended your November 21 performance. and am writing to congratulate you on producing such a magnificent Experience.  

Everything about yesterday evening was extraordinary – and moving.  The venue and its interior layout and design (evoking the space at Terezin where Brundibar was performed), the remarks by your Petite Opera Executive Director, the children’s performance (extraordinary!), the music (outstanding) and of course, hearing from Ela Stein Weissberger, an original cast member and an eyewitness to Brundibar’s history and the entire, horrifying context in which it was conceived and produced.  

Even your intermission was so beautifully choreographed.  

I found the whole evening quite moving.  

Thank you for everything you are doing to assure young people are exposed to opera.  And thank you for presenting Brundibar, a uniquely important work, in such a respectful, fulfilling and beautifully educational way.  

Susan Missner 
Dear Petite Opera,

Congratulations on your recent production of Brundibar. The young cast was superb, beautifully trained and prepared for an extremely difficult musical and emotional challenge.  Your work toward educating your audience on a story of  the Holocaust that is not well known was outstanding.  Including Ela Weissberger was a gift to your audience.  I have a Masters in Music and love the opera, and I was impressed by the quality of the performance.  Also, the violinist and pianist were superb.  

I was drawn to the performance through the notice on the Illinois Holocaust Website.  Currently, I am a minister and hold a Doctorate in Religious Education, centered on the creative process.  At the time of the performance, I was delivering a paper on Terezin at the Religious Educators Conference, being held in Oakbrook.   Brundibar  was a key part of the paper.  You cannot imagine how meaningful the performance was for me. 

I wanted to let you know that the work you are doing has deep and lasting implications and I am grateful for your contribution to the arts.

With best wishes for continued success.
Rev. Dr. Barbara B. Javore

Petite Opera wanted to touch lives with this moving story.  From the patron comments we received, we’re proud to have done so.  We also wanted to encourage young performers in opera.  Again, we’re proud to say that many of our young Brundibár performers have returned for our November 2015 production.

We want to keep touching lives in our communities.  Whether it be through laughter or tears, we hope that individuals touched by Brundibár will continue to call Petite Opera their home, and join us in new experiences.