Defiant Requiem: Verdi at Terezin, a moving concert-drama
This fall, the inspiring concert-drama Defiant Requiem: Verdi at Terezin was performed at Atlanta Symphony Hall. Created by Conductor Murray Sidlin, the concert featured a full performance of Guiseppe Verdi’s Requiem performed by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra (ASO) & Chorus. To call this performance a concert however, would not adequately describe the powerful presentation that took place that night. Interspersed throughout the Requiem, the story of life at Theresienstadt Concentration Camp unfolded with actors, historic Nazi film footage and video interviews with original chorus members.
The performance told the story of Rafael Schachter and his fellow prisoners at Theresienstadt as they tried to tell the world in music what they could not say in words. Mr. Schacter was able to smuggle a copy of the Verdi Requiem into Theresientstadt and he subsequently recruited and taught 150 fellow prisoners the Requiem by rote. The group was constantly changing throughout the years as prisoners were often deported to Auschwitz or other death camps, and new prisoners were constantly arriving. Over a period of years, the group performed the Requiem 16 times as a statement of defiance and resistance. SS officials invited international organizations and other leaders to Theresienstadt performances of the Requiem to pose a completely false presentation of life at in the camp. As seen in film footage, the Nazis portrayed a beautiful looking facility that offered its residents outdoor activities as well as all kinds of musical and artistic opportunities. In actuality, Theresienstadt was a concentration camp that imprisoned people against their will, stripped them of their dignity and then deported most of them to death camps.
The performance on October 11th was powerful, dramatic and inspirational. The interviews with some of the original chorus members told the audience of the impact that the chorus had on them. They said that the chorus helped them survive daily life as a prisoner, gave them hope and made them feel like they were defying their captors. The ending of the performance was powerful,chilling and one that no one in the audience is likely to ever forget. While watching video footage of prisoners getting on cattle cars to be deported to Auschwitz, the chorus members started filing offstage, one by one, from their risers. You could hear every thump as the chorus members came off the risers and left the stage. The musicians also then proceeded off the stage, one by one in silence, eerily representative of the people being marched to their deaths from the cattle cars. After the conductor left the stage in silence, one lone violinist was left on stage playing Oseh Shalom, a song declaring “Let there be peace.” When the violinist finished playing, he left the stage. The musicians, actors, chorus members and conductor never came back on stage to take a bow and there was never any applause. The audience left Symphony Hall in profound silence.
We are pleased to hear that the film “Defiant Requiem” will be featured in the 2013 Atlanta Jewish Film Festival. For more information on showtimes, please go to www.ajff.org