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Children's Opera Spreads Message of Solidarity


Sixth graders at Vermont Commons School
  • Sixth graders at Vermont Commons School

In 2004, Trish Denton received a copy of the picture book Brundibar, a collaboration between playwright Tony Kushner and children's book author Maurice Sendak. In it, a brother and sister desperately try to earn money for their sick mother by singing in the town square. An organ grinder named Brundibár thwarts their efforts, until 300 schoolchildren join the pair in song and defeat the evil man.

The story resonated with the Burlington-based artist. She later learned it was an adaptation of a children's opera written in 1938 by a group of Czech artists. While they were producing it in the early 1940s, most of the creators and cast members — many of them children — were sent to the Theresienstadt concentration camp, where they performed the show 55 times. "Hearing of the total heroism of these artists and teachers who did everything they could to create this imaginative environment where the kids felt safe" was further inspiration to Denton.

Trish Denton
  • Trish Denton

Denton is bringing the story of Brundibár to a Burlington stage in March, in partnership with the Jewish theater company Theatre Kavanah. Community members donated $5,200 toward the effort; additional support has come from the Vermont Arts Council, Burlington City Arts and the Sisters of Mercy Peace Initiative.

Next month, Denton will hold a casting call to recruit local kids, ages 8 to 14, and a few adults for the solo and ensemble roles. A community chorus will be made up of students from the Integrated Arts Academy at H.O. Wheeler, Champlain Elementary School and Vermont Commons School, where Denton's currently teaching kids about the story. When it's staged at Burlington City Hall Auditorium, the musical will have a contemporary feel with a timeless message: Solidarity is required to stand up to those who try to defeat us.

Auditions for Brundibár will take place at Burlington City Hall Auditorium on Saturday, December 5, 10 a.m.-2 p.m., and Sunday, December 6, 2-6 p.m.

This article was originally published in Seven Days' monthly parenting magazine, Kids VT.