When sixteen-year-old soprano Golda Berkman performs the role of Friedl Dicker-Brandeis in this weekend’s opera camp production of Then I Stood Up: A Civil Rights Cycle, Ela Weissberger, 85, will be in the audience.
Weissberger was one of more than 600 children who were taught art secretly by Friedl Dicker-Brandeis (the subject of the opera, Friedl) while imprisoned at the Nazi concentration camp at Terezín. Dicker-Brandeis was able to smuggle out 4,500 drawings by her students in two suitcases before she was killed in Auschwitz-Birkenau.
When recalling her beloved art teacher, Ela Weissberger says, “Friedl lives in my body. She is still alive in my heart. She would tell us, ‘You are not numbers; you have a name. Children, look outside. It’s a beautiful day. The sun is out. Terezín is a fortress surrounded by mountains. But behind those mountains is hope, the hope that you will survive.’”
Ela and Golda are both thrilled about her role as Friedl. “I was so excited that she would be Friedl, because her goodness is like Friedl,” Weissberger said. On Golda’s part, the sixteen-year-old singer hopes to authentically portray Ela’s vivid memory of Friedl and feels fortunate to have Ela in her life.
“Performing as this incredible artist and teacher is very meaningful, because I know that I am helping keep Ela and Friedl’s story alive. Friedl inspired hope in her children that in Ela’s case has lasted a lifetime,” said Golda.
Golda has wanted to sing opera since she was four, when she saw a performance of Mozart’s The Magic Flute and was awestruck by the grandiose sets and performers. After the show finished, Golda found herself happily singing in the car and told her father that she wanted to become an opera singer. Always supportive of her career, Golda’s father, Shallom, raised her to believe that it’s necessary to do what you love as a career.
Last March 28, Golda made her debut at Carnegie Hall. That same month, she was the grand prize finalist in classical voice of The Music Center’s Spotlight Awards (one of the youngest winners ever). Golda currently studies with world-famous voice builder Gary Catona, and renowned voice coach Armen Guzelimian.
Looking to the future, Golda’s goal is to be accepted at Juilliard and study with voice and vocal arts professor Marlena Malas. With a wonderful woman like Ela behind her and the power that comes with singing roles like Friedl, it is clear that Golda has an excellent path ahead of her.