STUMP » Articles » Sunday Opera Nugget: Maurice Sendak and Opera » 6 April 2014, 13:36

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Sunday Opera Nugget: Maurice Sendak and Opera  


6 April 2014, 13:36

While opera fanaticism is relatively new for me, I definitely enjoyed opera for years, though I didn’t understand a lot of it. I got super-cheap tickets via NYU when I was a grad student. I always looked for the shows that other students weren’t all that into.

My favorite, affordable opera company at the time was NYC Opera (aww, RIP, NYC Opera). One of the shows I saw there was The Love for Three Oranges, a Prokofiev opera, with design (costumes, set, etc.) by Maurice Sendak. I just finished reading a retrospective of Sendak’s work ( a great coffee-table book chock-full of Sendak’s art) and I discovered how involved Sendak was in opera.

He was a Mozart-lover like me.

And was really into opera.

How could he not be?

Unfortunately, I can’t find really good clips of Sendak productions. In one case, that of the Magic Flute, his set and props were destroyed in a storm. However, it looks like some opera companies have reproduced the sets, etc., or adapted what they could.

Here is an image of the three-wise-boys from the Magic Flute visiting Mozart while he composes:

Sendak also did design for the Nutcracker ballet:

But not only did Sendak do design for well-loved operas and ballets, he also had a couple of operas written based on his own work.

Yes, there’s a Where The Wild Things Are opera.

(No, I don’t know if it’s any good in terms of music). Also, another Sendak-originated opera: Higgledy Piggledy Pop

But something I do know is enjoyable: a couple of Ravel operas Sendak designed for – I also saw these in NYC.

All of these are “fantasies”. But sometimes with a bit of bite. Evidently, when Sendak designed for a production of Hansel and Gretel, some older adults complained about how dark it was.

People, the witch has actually killed and eaten scores of children. It’s right there in the opera. How is that not already dark?

The first act has Hansel & Gretel going on about how hungry they are and how poorly their family is doing.


(Yes, I know that it was the name of the Grimm brothers, but it’s remembered very well because those tales are fairly grim, if you actually read their versions. Nasty. And entertaining! Much better than Disney.)

So, though I can’t find great video clips for Sendak’s stuff (nor really good pictures), here are a couple video clips for taste:

And an interview with Sendak in how he got involved in opera professionally:

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