Monday | Nov 09, 2009

Mozart 101 with Sherri

Everything I know about Mozart I learned from the movie, Amadeus. If memory serves, the Viennese made some rather naughty-looking chocolates named after a part of the female anatomy, and Mozart had a silly laugh. In my defense, when the movie premiered twenty-five years ago, I was busy putting the perfect slouch on my leg warmers and teasing my hair to heights that would have made a Georgian-era wigmaker proud.

In an effort to overcome my meager knowledge of classical music, I bought an album entitled, “ Mozart for Your Mind”. With iPod in hand and an earnest desire to boost my brainpower, I sat down to listen. Keep in mind, I can’t read music, I’m tone deaf, and my singing voice can only be described as horrific.

Imagine my surprise when the composition reverberating through my ear buds resonated on a perfect emotional pitch! I sent Amadeus right to the top of my Netflix Queue. I mean, can you imagine the killer soundtrack? Then I started looking for ways to improve on my new-found appreciation of all things Mozart.

On Monday, November 9th, I’ll be joining Opera Omaha in a four-part lecture and performance series to learn more about the life and work of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Please accompany me on the journey as we answer these burning questions: Can a person who once confused the word ‘opera’ with ‘Oprah’ be taught to appreciate classical music? And…In 150 years, will ‘rum balls’ be considered ‘naughty’?

PS: If there’s a good turnout, I might even be persuaded to reveal a picture of my 1980’s hairdo.
Sherri Shackelford | Mozart 101 student

Friday | Nov 06, 2009

Brundibar: Beth Seldin Dotan of the IHE

Brundibár was a glimmer of an idea a number of years ago for the Institute for Holocaust Education. We wanted to optimize the number of students who would see the production and found a wonderful partner in Opera Omaha to accomplish our goal. After the first 4,000 students or so came through, we all looked at each other in a daze realizing the impact this story was to have on so many people. A few of the best comments I have received are the people who approached and asked if our cast was a professional touring company – and I proudly answered, “No! Except for our wonderful ‘Brundibar’ the cast were all Omaha and Lincoln students.” I also attended a community event this week with Ela where I heard a great buzz among the crowd about her and the upcoming public show on Saturday night! We hope to see you there!

Thursday | Nov 05, 2009

Brundibar: The Two Aninkus

Grace Bydalek and Aubrey Fleming are about halfway through the eleven performances of the children’s opera Brundibár. They share the lead role of Aninku, a young girl trying to care for a sick mother along with her brother Pepíček. Double cast due to the number of performances, when not Aninku, Grace’s has the alternate role of the Dog, while Aubrey plays the Sparrow. The Dog, Sparrow and a Cat help Aninku and Pepíček defeat the town bully, Brundibár.

If their names sound familiar, it’s because they both are veterans of numerous productions on the Opera Omaha, The Rose, and Omaha Community Playhouse circuit in addition to both have done voice work for the “Strawberry Shortcake” DVD series. During Opera Omaha’s 50th Anniversary season, they worked together in another children’s opera, All The King’s Men.

Grace and Aubrey have often auditions for the same roles, but experiences like Brundibár have allowed the two to form a true friendship. Don’t miss out on seeing these two amazing young artists in action at 6:30 pm on Saturday, November 7 at The Rose Theater.

Monday | Nov 02, 2009

Brundibar – David Ward in the title role

I did not know the opera before but discovering it in this production has been a delight. As I hear the orchestra play its complex melodies and then hear the children sing so simply and lyrically, I am amazed that such an intricate composition can be so simple and straight-forward. And the tunes stay with me – I can’t get some of them out of my head. Though thoroughly Eastern European (I keep hearing Janacek in the way the music twists and turns), I am reminded of the final children’s chorus from Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Both Krása, the Brundibár composer, and Britten use a haunting melody in their final lullabies. The result is a very gentle, soothing and comforting effect. I can see how this brief opera would have been a comfort to the children in the concentration camp where it was performed.

It is also a powerful and accessible story. Two children just want to care for their sick Mom while their friends, both human and animal, come to their aid. In the process, they defeat the oppressive and unkind organ grinder, Brundibár. You can see the evil in Brundibár but I don’t think it is scary. This story comes from such a tragic time but its purpose is to uplift and provide hope. I feel that very powerfully. And that feeling comes from the cast of children, all of whom are so committed, energetic (as kids will be), and full of the zeal that we expect from young people.

It is very gratifying to be the only adult in this cast. The children are so supportive of me and each other. I have spoken at several schools and I am so pleased at the energy and interest the cast kids and their school friends have shown about this show, about music, and about being part of something special. Because this experience is very unique, I am thrilled to be a part of it.

Monday | Nov 02, 2009

Brundibar – Hal France, Conductor

Tomorrow we begin the student performances of Brundibár. The Rose is the absolutely perfect stage and best theater in Omaha for us to do Brundibár. Being part of the group that organized this excellent project, we were thrilled when Julie and James at Omaha’s Theater Company for Young People found these great dates for our production. We are all very grateful for the help and support of the theater.

Brundibár is a project that I hoped the Omaha community would experience. Going back to the late 90’s, I thought it would be a great thing for Opera Omaha to do at the Rose Theater. Our upcoming shows, 11 in all, are just a fantastic thing! Not easy to say how many people and organizations have helped make this happen.

I would start by mentioning the brainstorming and activism of Eunie and Debbie Denenberg and Fred Simon (they call him Freddy, but I don’t dare). Through their efforts the Institute for Holocaust Education and the very resourceful Beth Seldin Dotan began to consider a run of performances of this opera for middle school audiences. The opera is of itself a marvelous children’s fable about the importance of friends when dealing with great trouble. The trouble is Brundibár, the organ grinder, who monopolizes the performance of music in a small town. Sounds innocent, but the tactics of well organized bullies in a fable is intended to bring to mind governmental dictators. The history of Brundibár at Terezín in Czechoslovakia where thousands of Jews were held and eventually sent to Auschwitz during the Holocaust makes it impossible to not think of the Nazis and of Hitler when considering the plot of the opera.

I should mention, that last year, the Omaha Conservatory under the direction of Ruth Meints and Cindy Sloan, did a production of Brundibár using young instrumentalists as the cast. They did a nice performance at the JCC. As far as I know, it was the first time it was performed in Omaha.

One of the many good things that happened on the way to our performances this week was the joining of Opera Omaha’s new General Director, John Wehrle to the team. Through then Board President Kim Simon and other communicators, John heard about our idea and embraced it. We never could have done this kind of show without the skill and talent of Opera Omaha’s excellent staff: Mark, Brad, Blythe, Tara, Jen, Sarah, Joe, J., Kelly, Maggie, and Tom,… forgive me if I’m forgetting someone.

Beth along with Eunie and Debbie made contact with Ela Weissberger over a year ago and invited her to be a part of these presentations to Omaha Middle Schools. Ela is a remarkable woman who originally played the role of the Cat in Terezín. She has been present at many productions of Brundibár, adding her perspective to the experience for many who have just seen the opera. We are so fortunate that she will speak with our audiences about her experience of the Holocaust, Terezín, her family, her fellow cast members, etc. At the end of every presentation, the company will perform an encore of the Victory March with Ela and the entire cast.

Up high on the list of good things, also the marvelous audition turnout we had in the spring when many of our cast members were selected. They’ve been a fabulous group to work with.

Our orchestra was put together by J. Gawf who keeps on getting better in everything he does for opera in Omaha. We have an orchestra of 16 players, nine professionals and eight young players who study violin with Anne Nagosky. Anne is our concertmaster and we couldn’t be luckier to have some of her many students playing with us.

Karen Spurck and her choir from Morton Middle School heard about the production and joined us in early September. They’ve added so much to the production and have been great to work with. We are grateful to Karen!

David Ward a splendid singer and actor from the national ranks of opera professionals is taking the role of Brundibár and bringing great humor and theatrical flair to it.

We were also amazed that the National Humanities Conference was coming to Omaha exactly the week of Brundibár. This subject and project is a perfect match for that group of national leaders in the humanities. We hope many will be present at our final show.

Finally, our stage director Helena Binder began shaping the production and the staging last week. Her energy, passion, spark and playfulness are perfect for this show! A former dancer, she’s demonstrates the movements of the cat, the dog and the sparrow particularly well. All the performers and our whole show are in great hands.



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