[img]http://hits.guardian.co.uk/b/ss/guardiangu-feeds/1/H.20.3/70561?ns=guardian&pageName=The+other+Where+the+Wild+Things+Are+%7C+Tom+Service%3AArticle%3A1313393&ch=Music&c3=GU.co.uk&c4=Opera+%28Music+genre%29%2CClassical+music+%28Music+genre%29%2CMaurice+Sendak%2CSpike+Jonze%2CFilm%2CMusic%2CStage%2CCulture+section%2CBooks&c6=Tom+Service&c7=09-Dec-03&c8=1313393&c9=Article&c10=Blogpost&c11=Music&c13=&c25=Tom+Service+blog&c30=content&h2=GU%2FMusic%2Fblog%2FTom+Service+on+classical+music[/img]The fuss over Spike Jonze's film forgets that there was an even more ambitious version of the children's book - an opera
All the fuss over Spike Jonze's film version of Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are overlooks that there was a previous, and in a way, even more ambitious adaptation of the piece: the "fantasy opera" that Oliver Knussen composed on Wild Things nearly 30 years ago. Sendak himself wrote the libretto for Knussen, expanding the 338 words of his original book to a larger scale. Not that much bigger, though: the opera only plays for about 40 minutes, and avoids what Xan Brooks described in his review of the film as the "extrapolation and explanation; a cinematic York Notes" in the script, the narrative that Jonze and novelist David Eggers invent to make the story work on celluloid.
The brilliant thing about the opera as opposed to the film – OK, I haven't seen it yet, but based the reviews so far! – is that Knussen's music on one hand opens Sendak's story out, imagining the sounds of the Wild Things' domain, Max's adventures, his heroism, his fear, his relationship with his mother; but on the other, the music never becomes a musical York Notes of the book. The instrumental music Knussen writes for the Wild Rumpus, for example, is defiantly adult in its construction, its sophistication, and expressive violence, but it's also so beguilingly orchestrated, so sensually scored, that it manages the Sendak-esque trick of appealing meaningfully to Maxes of all ages. The opera also looked great, in its Glyndebourne double-bill with Knussen's other Sendak opera, Higglety Pigglety Pop!, and it's available on DVD.
And here's a snippet of Max and Knussen's Wild Things on YouTube. Opera houses have missed a trick in not putting on productions to coincide with Jonze's movie, but who knows, maybe all this Wild Things-mania will mean some enterprising impresario will stage Knussen's opera again soon.
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Guardian: The other Where the Wild Things Are | Tom Service
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