Lost Childhood: A New Opera on the Holocaust

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The Lost Childhood, premiere November 9(Photo: swarthmore college-janice hamer)
The Lost Childhood, premiere November 9(Photo: swarthmore college-janice hamer)

Lost Childhood is a memoir by Dr. Yehua Nir. In 1941, Dr. Nir’s father was arrested by the Nazis. Yehuda was 11-years old. He, his mother and his sister spent the next four years as Jews in hiding, moving place to place disguised as Polish Catholics.

Lost Childhood is the name of an opera with music by Janice Hamer and libretto by Mary Azrael. Gottfried Wagner, great-grandson of the composer Richard Wagner, served as dramaturg and advisor throughout the process of creating this opera. Lost Childhood has had a number of workshop productions. The work was commissioned and developed by American Opera Projects.

At last, the opera a will be performed in its entirety on November 9 at Strathmore Music Center in Bethesda, MD. Columbus listeners will remember tenor Michael Hendrick, who saved our OSU production of Fidelio three years ago. Hendrick takes the role of Judah, with baritone Christopher Pedro Trakas as Manfred.

The year is 1939 in Lvov, Poland.  In the living room of a well to do Jewish family.  Julek, 9, and his teenage sister dance to tango music on the radio.  Their father enters and turns to the BBC broadcast to hear news of impending war. Fast-forward to 1993, an elegant bar in a Manhattan hotel, where Judah, a psychiatrist (formerly the child Julek) sits across from his German colleague, Manfred born after the war to a prominent family of Nazi sympathizers.

Through a series of flashbacks, Manfred, tormented, faces his family’s dark past, while Judah reveals for the first time, with bravado and humor, anger and grief, how he, his mother and sister outwitted the Third Reich.

The choice of November 9 for the complete Lost Childhood performance is no accident. This is the 75th anniversary of kristallnacht, the program aimed at Jews throughout Germany on the night of November 9-10, 1938.

Hamer, the composer, graduated from Harvard and received her Ph.D. at the City University of New York. At the top of this post, listen to my recent conversation with Janice Hamer, about the development of The Lost Childhood.

She gives us insight not only on this project but on the painstaking process to get a new opera from the page to the stage.

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