CAPE TOWN, June 12 (JTA) — Had she survived, Anne Frank would have turned 74 on Thursday. Six days later, Roland Polastro will pay her a posthumous birthday tribute with the worldwide premier here of his Anne Frank Cantata. The production will star Jewish soprano Andrea Catzel and will feature 30 choir members from local Jewish day schools. Polastro wrote the composition’s musical score and the words, much of them in German. “I happened to be re-reading the Anne Frank Diary and things clicked in my mind,” Polastro told JTA. Polastro was deeply affected when he first read “Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl.” He was 14, the same age as Frank when she died. He found himself wondering how he would have reacted in her situation, Polastro said. Not long ago, Polastro, who is not Jewish, decided he wanted to convert to Judaism. He began taking Hebrew lessons, which he had to interrupt when his father fell ill and then died. Polastro moved to Cape Town two years ago. He is determined to pursue seriously his goal of conversion “once the dust settles” after his show, he said. Polastro’s journey to Judaism started not with Frank but with the famous picture of the little boy in the Warsaw Ghetto with his arms held up in surrender. “He had a very arresting face,” Polastro said. “I wrote a poem about him and then started getting interested in embracing Judaism as a religion.” The new musical composition, which has four movements, reflects his personal spiritual journey. “My own conversion to Judaism would be represented in the final movement, which is in Hebrew and in which I have incorporated Ein Keloheinu,” a traditional prayer, he said. “The first three movements are very much to do with Anne and her life, her sufferings, the birthday parties she never really had. Then the little boy — whom I’ve called Jakob — gets his movement and the finale is an affirmation of faith.” There will be a large white screen behind the choir onto which images of Frank, and the house and annex where she took refuge, will be projected as the work progresses. “When the fourth movement comes along, there will be a picture in the center of the little boy. There won’t be a dry eye in the place,” Polastro predicted. Given the subject matter, the production could have been gloomy, but in fact it is a celebration, he said. “With this one is to some extent celebrating the life of Anne Frank, of that little boy in the ghetto who is now not forgotten.” he said. “And in the end, we affirm the faith.” Polastro, who is a trained pianist, said his work is tuneful and melodious throughout. “It has its serious and somber moments, but it has plenty of foot-tapping stuff and plenty of tunes you can hum along to once you have heard them once or twice,” he said. Three of the movements are in German, which Polastro said Yiddish and Afrikaans speakers should be able to understand. Just in case, a complete translation of the program will be available. Eventually, Polastro hopes to take the production to Johannesburg and other South African cities, as well as to Israel and the United States. “That could produce a lot of money, not just for me, but for Jewish charities and education in South Africa,” he said. “That’s really what I want to make my life’s work.”
Moira Schneider is a JTA correspondent in South Africa. A law graduate and psychology major, she is the Cape Town correspondent for the South African Jewish Report. She contributes to London's Jewish Chronicle, is a reporter for the Cape Jewish Chronicle and has been published in the Cape Times and Cape Argus.