Review: Brundibar, Mahogany & Jubilee Opera, Aldeburgh, November 9

Scenes from the performance of Brundibar in Aldeburgh

Scenes from the performance of Brundibar in Aldeburgh - Credit: Archant

Brundibar is an inventive and engaging work but with a sombre history in its early years. Written in 1938 by the composer Hans Krasa with an original libretto by Adolf Hoffmeister it tells the uplifting story of local people banding together to defeat the sinister and oppressive Brundibar, thinly disguised as Hitler.

Scenes from the performance of Brundibar in Aldeburgh

Scenes from the performance of Brundibar in Aldeburgh - Credit: Archant

When Krasa was deported to Theresienstadt in 1943 he managed to organise over fifty performances of Brundibar in that grim setting before his removal to Auschwitz in 1944.

The performance by Jubilee Opera and Mahogany Opera Group in association with Watford Palace Theatre was directed with flair and invention by Frederic Wake-Walker and conducted with assurance and precision by Alice Farnham.

Colour and energy abounded but a sombre note was struck in the opening exchanges as Pepicek and Aniku learned of their mother’s illness and her need for milk. Three milk bottles appeared with delightful charm and various officials were cleverly caricatured by their uniforms and strutting movements.

Brundibar himself, sung by Piotr Lempa, was a sinister figure, eventually dismembered by his own organ grinding machine. No praise is too high for the enthusiasm and commitment of the children as they threw themselves into their roles – animals, policemen and vendors - and for thirty five minutes we were fully absorbed in their world.

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The orchestra, containing several members of the Southbank Sinfonia played with great character and were never too loud for the children’s voices.

Preceding Brundibar was a series of songs, largely from Eastern Europe including some fine solos from Piotr Lempa who has often appeared at Snape with English Touring Opera. Children from Coldfair Green, Orford, Aldeburgh and Saxmundham Primary Schools sang with energy and enthusiasm but also a touching vulnerability in ‘You Look Beautiful’.

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A newly commissioned piece Dream-think-say-do by Jubilee alumnus Tom Rose for soloist, children’s voices, cello and piano was thoughtful, effective and touching. The first half was rounded off by a wonderfully spirited performance of the Czech song Whitsuntide which perfectly captured the spirit of this delightful afternoon.

In the spring and early summer of next year Brundibar will be touring to four venues across the country, giving opportunities for different groups of children to take part in this production. Could anything be more valuable and worthwhile? Well done everyone, not forgetting how much behind-the-scenes work is required for this sort of enterprise.

Gareth Jones

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