Keith Bruce tells the story of a musical piece which survived a death camp

THIS evening at a castle in Hukvaldy in the Czech Republic almost three dozen young people from Central Scotland take an opera home. Their performance of Hans Krasa's Brundibar - first seen at Stirling's MacRobert Arts Centre in October of last year - is part of a festival in the town which is not far from the site of the Terezin concentration camp where it was first staged in 1944.

The story of Krasa's children's opera is one of survival. The original cast may have perished - Terezin was a transit camp for Jews who were subsequently transported to Auschwitz, Belsen, and Treblinka - but the opera survived because it was smuggled out piece by piece. It is a simple fable of village life with the clear message that tyranny must be defeated.

The English performing version is the work of John Abulafia, director of Mecklenburgh Opera, who staged the piece as part of a double bill with another Terezin opera, Victor Ullman's The Emperor of Atlantis. Brundibar was a collaboration between the company and the MacRobert, who created a youth music theatre company for the show.

Music coach Sasha Abrams, a former professional singer with Glyndebourne and the English Opera Group, found herself inundated with applications when the theatre advertised for members.

From almost 700 enthusiastic youngsters, she selected 36. The quality of their performance impressed not only audiences and critics, but also the London-based director of the Hukvaldy Festival, David Sulkin, who extended the invitation for the production to play the birthplace of composer Janacek.

A determined fundraising effort was launched by the MacRobert and the children's families, but at the end of May this year - as Michael Tumelty reported in The Herald - there was still a substantial shortfall from the total required to take up the offer. The Czech trip appeared doomed, despite the fact that there were no production or administration costs involved.

Sulkin, however, was determined that the Czech audience would see the show and a fortnight later an international package of sponsorship had been assembled with contributions from original backers The British Council, The Paul Hamlyn Foundation, and British Gas, alongside the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank and United Distillers in Prague.

Local companies in the Stirling area chipped in with gifts for the children to take to their Czech hosts.

Last week Abrams was putting her over-excited charges through their paces at the MacBob before their departure on Friday. Almost all of the original company have been able to make the trip, and as well as brushing up their opera performance, they have learned a repertoire of Scots songs for a ceilidh to follow the performance. Last night they played a local school, and tonight is the outdoor festival show.

Abrams says that although they will be performing a Czech opera in the Czech Republic in English, they have also learned the final moving chorus about the triumph of good over evil in Czech, the language in which its message originally eluded the Nazi guards.

The survival of the Brundibar show adds another chapter to the story of the Terezin operas, but in a further twist it may be the last one for Mecklenburgh Opera, who returned to the MacRobert just a month ago with another acclaimed double bill, Julian Grant's Jump Into My Sack and Judith Weir's The Consolations of Scholarship.

Following that production, the Mecklenburgh board, faced with the prospect of operating at a deficit and awaiting an expected grant from the Foundation for Sport and the Arts, recently decided that the company had no option but to cease trading. Liz Moran, director of the MacRobert remains hopeful that the company may yet be resurrected in the future, but she is equally determined that the theatre will maintain its fruitful relationship with Abulafia and Mecklenburgh conductor Anne Manson. The lesson of survival is a potent one.