For a long time, I was known to describe Verdi’s as “my favorite Requiem.” The first time I attended a live choral performance, I was overwhelmed by it.
That was many years ago. Since that first performance, I have listened over and over to a CD. But Monday evening I attended another live performance. And I can’t quite find the words to articulate how extraordinary it was.
So I’ll borrow from others.
The concert-drama, Defiant Requiem: Verdi at Terezín, tells the story of the courageous Jewish prisoners in the Theresienstadt Concentration Camp during World War II who performed the famous Verdi Requiem Mass while experiencing the depths of human degradation. With only a smuggled score, they performed the famous oratorio sixteen times, including one performance before senior SS officials from Berlin and a Red Cross delegation. Conductor Rafael Schächter told the choir, “We will sing to the Nazis what we cannot say to them.”
The concert was conceived and created by Foundation President, Maestro Murry Sidlin. The concert combines the magnificent music of Verdi with testimony from survivors of the original chorus and footage from a Nazi propaganda film on Theresienstadt. The performance also includes actors who speak the words of imprisoned conductor Rafael Schächter and other prisoners. This is not just another performance of the Verdi Requiem, but a tribute to the inspired leadership of Rafael Schächter who was forced to reconstitute the choir three times as members were transported to Auschwitz. The performances came to symbolize resistance and defiance and answering the worst of mankind with the best of mankind. The performance is powerful, dramatic and inspirational, with a contemporary message of hope.
The story of Terezín unfolds between each section of the Verdi score. The final concert/drama, running two hours without intermission, explains why the performances in 1943 and 1944 provided a beacon of hope for the prisoner choir and its audience.
Please also read this preview article from last week’s issue of The Jewish Week (it includes a great anecdote about the role a bookstore played in making the whole story known now). Then, if you’re so inclined, there’s an excellent documentary available as well. With music.
(cross-published as part of a post on my other blog)