Challenge of playing Anne Frank

28th January 2005 at 00:00
Young teacher tells of her role in opera performance for Holocaust survivors. Adi Bloom reports

Standing on stage in front of hundreds of Holocaust survivors, singing teacher Louise Kateck was sure of one thing.

"It is up to my generation to make sure people remember what happened," the 24-year-old said. "We need to ensure people always realise the gravity of it."

Ms Kateck, who works at City of London girls' school, performed for 500 concentration camp survivors, along with Tony Blair, the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh this week.

She took the title role in the premi re of Annelies, an operatic retelling of the story of Anne Frank, who kept a diary while in hiding from the Nazis with her family in an Amsterdam attic. After being discovered, she was transported to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp where she died in March 1945.

Ms Kateck sang two arias from the new opera at a 60th-anniversary Holocaust memorial concert in London yesterday. The music for Annelies, Anne's full name, was written by James Whitbourn and Melanie Challenger edited the lyrics from the girl's diary.

"It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," she said. "Anne Frank is a symbol of the Holocaust. I felt a real sense of responsibility and humility.

"I had to perform for the survivors, first and foremost. I cannot imagine what they have experienced."

To prepare for the role of a 15-year-old girl, Ms Kateck referred to her own teenage pupils.

"I tried to relate to their cheekiness, their playfulness, the way they do not always concentrate," she said. "There is always a bit of friction with their parents, which also comes through in Anne's diary."

But, she said, it was difficult to compare pupils at her pound;3,363-a-term school to Anne Frank.

"My girls are feisty. But there is a real tenacity needed to live in an attic for two years. The world we live in now is so different."

Her work at school has been helpful in other ways though. She found that studying her pupils' singing technique enabled her to observe and correct her own. It was also useful in combating opening-night nerves.

She said: "I was more nervous singing solo in a school concert than about performing in Annelies.

"My pupils look up to me. You have to sing well, because you want them to respect you. You have to make sure you do the things you tell them to do. I was less nervous about performing in front of the Queen."

Religious leaders including the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Chief Rabbi visited Pimlico comprehensive, in London, yesterday to take part in a commemorative assembly to mark Holocaust memorial day.

More than 300 students from the school were addressed by a concentration camp survivor and heard testimonies written by other survivors.

Jonathan Sacks, the chief rabbi, said: "Education is the most important weapon in the fight for freedom, tolerance, mutual respect and the sanctity of life."

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