‘I want to speak for gays and gypsies’: Butterfly in Blood opera composer’s homage to Auschwitz survivors

Butterfly in Blood, based on the memoirs of Fania Fénelon, tells the story of a survivor of the Auschwitz concentration camp in WW2 and a member of its orchestra.

Greek composer, soprano singer and pianist, Marika Klambatsea’s opera addresses the struggles of Fania Fénelon, as a fellow soprano opera singer and pianist.

The opera intends to show the capabilities of human spirit that allows them to persevere through great atrocities.

Marika Klambatsea told MM: “The central idea of my performance is to express all the dynamism of these people, who even if they were in prison, they had a big power.

“The dynamism of the people that overcome the tragedy… the power of belief and faith.”

The tale of the Women’s Orchestra of Auschwitz was also depicted in the 1980 film ‘Playing for Time’ which Fénelon co-wrote and is based on her autobiography, ‘The Musicians of Auschwitz’.

Butterfly in Blood is told through a vast array of languages, including songs sung in French, English, Yiddish, Greek and Italian, along with text read directly from Fénelon’s memoirs in Greek and English.

Klambatsea has drawn on a broad range of musical prowess, such as world-famous composers Strauss, Shostakovich and Puccini, as well as one of her own pieces – titled Holocaust.

This variety of musical influences, intentionally from as many nations as possible, to broaden the scope of the performance, has created what she calls a joy for these musicians.

“Everything is connected, they were songs written during this period,” she said.

“The Un bel di vedremo from Madame Butterfly for example, the SS obliged Fania Fénelon to sing.

“I take this and I improvise it, I could aggress these people who order me (Fania) to sing it, I try to feel how Fénelon could be if she tries to aggress these people.

“The Blue Danube for example, the Nazis would oblige political prisoners to dance to the music of Strauss, so that’s why I use this music against these people.

“For the portion in Fénelon’s book where she talks about liberation, the BBC came in with a microphone, and told her ‘please sing now for BBC’ and she was almost dead because she was very ill.

“‘Please sing for us your national French – La Marseillaise’, she began to sing this very loud even though she was very ill, and it in this moment, I sing a French song of Edith Piaf, ‘Non, Je ne regrette rien’.”


The title of Edith Piaf’s famous song translates to ‘I regret nothing’, just a part of the mixture of emotion’s Klambatsea intends to portray throughout this performance.

“For me this is the power and the power I can express through my work, the power of life.”

Large portions of this performance will be improvised, which aims to get across the differing ideas that strike the composer not only as a musician but also politically, which she intends to keep her out of the mainstream.

Klambatsea is a strongly opposed to fascism and racism, two problems which she states are as prevalent in today’s society as they were during the holocaust.

The performance is dubbed an opera, but Klambatsea told MM that this is not a conventional type of opera, as she is not a classical singer, but a contemporary one who frequently improvises freely.

When asked whether she thought she may have to be wary of how she broaches the topic of the Holocaust and the issues that surround it, she quickly declined any sort of issue.

“No, no, I don’t have any problem at all, I want to speak for all political prisoners, I want to speak for gays, gypsies, for people who were being imprisoned in this period, people who suffer today also, through my music.” 

Butterfly in Blood plays at Manchester’s Royal Northern College of Music from the April 29-30, starting at 8pm, tickets cost £17 and can be purchased at 0161 907 5555.

Image courtesy of Marika Klambatsea via Facebook, with thanks.

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