Maurice Sendak’s classic drawings from Where the Wild Things Are to be brought to life in opera at the Barbican Centre

12:59 31 October 2012

It’s a children’s story adored the world over and – for the first time ever in its 49-year history – the enchanting illustrations of Where the Wild Things Are have been brought alive on stage.

The drawings by the late Maurice Sendak have been transformed – with his blessing – into moving, singing animations for the revival of composer Oliver Knussen’s fantasy opera production based on the book, which forms the highlight of the forthcoming Barbican Weekender.

The original opera, with libretto by Sendak, was first performed more than 30 years ago and has not been staged on UK soil since.

But, in celebration of Knussen’s timeless work in his 60th anniversary year, imaginative director Netia Jones, of Transition Projects, conceived the idea – in conjunction with conductor Ryan Wigglesworth – of using interactive animation techniques to bring the book’s characters to life, along with his opera based on Sendak’s lesser known work Higglety Pigglety Pop!

Soprano Claire Booth plays protagonist Max in the Where the Wild Things Are and Rhoda/baby’s mother in Higglety Pigglety Pop!, and was also part of the early discussions of the project. She said: “Oliver [Knussen] was a very old friend of Sendak’s as they had worked together all those years ago. And he told him about what Netia [Jones] wanted to do for his birthday, to see what his thoughts were.

“Sendak was delighted to be able to give Netia permission to use his images as a birthday gift to Oliver. He had not given his permission to any other companies over the years, and these images are very iconic so he wasn’t short of offers.”

But, tragically, Sendak died in May at the age of 83, before getting to see the much anticipated production.

“It was so tragic that Sendak passed away,” said Booth. “Netia went to visit him as she had struck up a friendship with him resulting from her interest in his work, so she was in touch and talking about what we were doing.

“I don’t want to sound clichéd, but I’m utterly convinced that this is exactly what he would have wanted and he was so looking forward to seeing it.

“He springs out of this production, the animations cover the set and stage, and it would be impossible to divorce Sendak from his work – I think that’s a testament to him as a man and what he did.”

The productions see Booth perform live on stage with Jones manipulating the images in real time, as well as some live camera shots.

Booth continued: “I have images of myself prerecorded so when I’m singing live on stage I can jump into the screen and then I’m there alongside the animated characters. It’s right into the vanguard this type of work.”

The animated characters will be performed by an ensemble of opera singers, with music by Britten Sinfonia conducted by Ryan Wigglesworth. The production was performed at the Aldeburgh Festival in June and in America earlier this month to critical acclaim. Booth added: “It has been very well received. Everyone has been blown away.”

The performance of the two operas will take place at 2pm and 7pm on Saturday, November 3.

Knussen’s work will also be celebrated by the BBC Symphony Orchestra on Sunday, November 4, with a series of concerts, films and discussions including his Whitman Settings and Requiem: Songs for Sue, also performed by Claire Booth.

To book tickets visit www.barbican.org.uk or call 020 7638 8891.

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