Books Magazine

"He Gave Up Being King."

By Superconductor @ppelkonen

Did you know that Maurice Sendak designed operas?

Maurice Sendak's design for the Cook in
Prokofiev's The Love for Three Oranges.
Image from a Lincoln Center exhibit.

The world lost beloved children's book author and illustrator Maurice Sendak today, who passed away at the age of 83, the New York Times reported. The cause was complications from a recent stroke.
Younger readers of this blog may not know that Mr. Sendak's creations regularly came to life for New Yorkers at the New York City Opera, starting in 1981.
In addition to collaborating with composer Oliver Knussen to bring his book Where the Wild Things Are to the operatic stage, Mr. Sendak exercised his talents as an imaginative designer of opera productions in collaboration with director Frank Corsaro. His creations at City Opera included:

  • Ravel's twin one-act operas L'heure Espagnole and L'enfant et les sortileges.
  • Prokofiev's fantastic The Love for Three Oranges complete with a monstrous puppet Cook.
  • Janacek's The Cunning Little Vixen which did much to make this woodland tale a favorite with New Yorkers.

I saw all of these in my childhood years--and a few later on as City Opera presented revivals in the 1990s. I also saw Where the Wild Things Are (on an imaginative double bill with the surviving music from Mozart's unfinished L'Oca del Cairo. (I remember liking the Mozart better.)
Other Sendak productions included Humperdinck's  Hansel und Gretel, Mozart's Die Zauberflöte and another operatic adaptation by Mr. Knussen: Higglety Pigglety Pop! 
At a recent press conference, another opera journalist asked current City Opera general manager George Steel s asked about the state of the props and costumes for these productions--with particular interest in the Vixen. After some thought  Mr. Steel said that he did not believe that the elements of those productions could take the stage.

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