Teen provided translation for Verdi’s ‘Requiem’

Our Oct. 8 story on the concert-drama “Defiant Requiem: Verdi at Terezin” has a few side notes which deserve mention. Although the language of Giuseppe Verdi’s “Requiem” — primarily a funeral Mass — was unfamiliar to the Jewish concentration camp prisoners who performed it more than 16 times while in the Nazi prison camp in Terezin, Czeckoslovakia, in 1943-44, they knew exactly what the words of the choral work meant — thanks to a young translator.

Conductor Murry Sidlin leads rehearsal of 'Requiem' at former Nazi camp. (CNS photo from CUA)

Murry Sidlin, who is former dean of the music school at  The Catholic University of America and the creator and conductor of “Defiant Requiem,” told Catholic News Service that the choir was singing what they couldn’t say to their captors and giving hope to fellow prisoners — and all  from a Latin text. The prisoners had insight into these Latin phrases about liberation and God’s judgment, because of  a teenage girl in the camp who had converted to Catholicism and was familiar with Latin. According to Sidlin, the young girl met with the camp’s conductor, Rafael Schaechter, to provide the translation of the work. She survived the camps and went on to become a Carmelite nun. She died a few years ago.

Another note: Verdi’s “Requiem” — honoring the famous novelist and poet Alessandro Manzoni, who died in 1873 — was first performed in Milan in 1874.  Sidlin suspects that Verdi — “the political animal he was” — would have been honored that his work found new life in rehearsals in the dark basement at a concentration camp and the multiple public performances there.

“If he knew they had reached out to his work from a concentration camp, he would be on bended knees in tears with humility,” said Sidlin, who has made it part of his life’s work to give credit to this group of singers and their conductor for fighting their captivity with music.

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