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Santa Barbara Choral Society Dedicates ‘Requiem’ to WWII Camp Detainees

The May performances will coincide with an annual concentration camp commemoration in the Czech Republic

In support of the Terezín concentration camp commemoration, held annually in the Czech Republic on the third Sunday in May, the Santa Barbara Choral Society will perform the “Verdi Requiem” on May 16 and 17 at The Granada.

The “Messa da Requiem” by Giuseppe Verdi sets the Roman Catholic funeral Mass to music. It was first performed on May 22,1874, to mark the first anniversary of the death of Alessandro Manzoni, an Italian poet and novelist much admired by Verdi.

The Santa Barbara performance is part of a global tribute for the role the piece played at Terezín, the World War II concentration camp outside of Prague.

Recognizing the power of music to lift the spirits of the downtrodden, one prisoner at the camp, Bucharest-born conductor Raphael Schaechter, created a chorus of 150 prisoners to sing Verdi’s “Requiem” to the camp’s population as a way of passively defying their Nazi captors. The chorus was disbanded twice when the Nazis deported inmate-singers to death camps in the east. But each time the devoted Schaechter rebuilt the group. Between 1943 and 1944, the chorus managed to perform the piece 16 times. The chorus was finally disbanded in the fall of 1944 when Schaechter was deported to Auschwitz. He did not survive.

The coincidence of the timing of the “Requiem” performance in Santa Barbara and the day of remembrance in Terezín on that same weekend moved the Choral Society to dedicate the work in memory of those imprisoned at Terezín.

“We are are honored to sing in remembrance of these singers and musicians, their brave conductor, and the role the Verdi ‘Requiem’ played in history,” said Choral Society director JoAnne Wasserman. “This will be one of the most impressive concerts in the Choral Society’s 61 years.”

Considered by many to be the greatest choral masterwork of all time, the Verdi “Requiem” will be performed in Santa Barbara with a 70-member orchestra, soloists and 125-voice chorus under Wasserman’s direction. Soloists for the performance are well-known for their range and experience with Verdi roles, and include Erin Wood, soprano; Cynthia Jansen, mezzo; Eduardo Villa, tenor; Michael Gallup, bass.

Tickets for the Santa Barbara Choral Society’s performance of “Requiem, the Commemorative Concert” are available from The Granada Box Office, 1214 State St., or by phone at 805.899.2222.

— Barbara Burger represents the Santa Barbara Choral Society.

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