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Brundibar: A History and Synopsis


Children´s choir with 10 mayor roles:

Aninka and Pepicek go to the market to get some milk for their sick mother. As they dont have any money, they decide to follow the example of the organ grinder, Brundibár – people throw coins in his hat when he makes music. Aninka and Pepicek sing their favourite song but nobody listens to them. When they try to draw attention to themselves, they are chased away from the market for being a nuisance. It is almost dusk. Aninka and Pepicek don't know what to do. How can they sing louder than the bad old organ grinder with their small voices? Lots of children must sing – that might work. At this cue, a dog, a cat, and a sparrow are on the spot and promise to help. The next morning, the animals round up all the children in town, who make a large choir. The plan succeeds: their singing is louder than the barrel organ, the people listen, and soon Pepicek's cap is full of coins. Suddenly, Brundibár appears, grabs the cap from Pepicek, and tries to run away with the money. However, he is only one against many and he doesn´t stand a chance. The children celebrate their victory and the choir sings of friendship and support for each other.

A History of Brundibar

In 1938, composer Hans Krasa and librettist Adolf Hoffmeister wrote Brundibar in the ghettos of Prague. The opera made its way to Terezin, where it was performed 55 times by the children of the concentration camp under the direction of Jewish music teachers. The Nazi command permitted concerts at Terezin in order to delude the outside world into thinking the Jews were being treated humanely. In 1944, the Nazis filmed a performance of Brundibar for their propaganda film, "The Fuehrer Presents the Jews with a City." Nearly all of the children who performed in the opera were deported to Auschwitz and died in the gas chambers. Hans Krasa met the same fate.

The history of Brundibar is brutal, but the opera itself is a parable of hope and justice. It's the tale of a poor family whose children seek money to buy milk for their sick mother, only to have their quest thwarted by an evil organ grinder named Brundibar. With help of three intelligent animals, the children defeat the unjust bully and return home in triumph.

When Maurice Sendak agreed to design the sets for the Chicago Opera Theater's summer 2003 production of Brundibar, he enlisted his friend Tony Kushner to create a new English-language libretto for the production. Their work on the opera grew into their collaboration on the children's book.

This children's opera, a parable of good conquering evil, was performed 55 times by the children of the Nazi concentration camp Terezin. Maurice Sendak and Tony Kushner have collaborated on a new illustrated book based on the opera, to be published November 1.

About the Author and Illustrator

Tony Kushner's plays include "A Bright Room Called Day"; "The Illusion"; "Angels In America, Parts One and Two"; "Slavs!"; "Hydrotaphia"; "Homebody/Kabul"; and adaptations of Goethe's "Stella", Brecht's "The Good Person of Setzuan", and Ansky's "The Dybbuk". His work has been produced at theatres around the United States and in over thirty countries around the world. He is the recipient of the 1993 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the 1993 and 1994 Tony Awards for Best Play, among other awards.

Maurice Sendak received the 1964 Caldecott Medal for "Where the Wild Things Are." In 1970 he received the international Hans Christian Andersen Medal for Illustration, in 1983 he received the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award from the American Library Association, and in 1996 he received a National Medal of Arts in recognition of his contribution to the arts in America. In March 2003, Sendak received the first Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award, an annual international prize for children's literature established by the Swedish government.