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Knussen Chamber Operas

Knussen: Chamber Operas
Maurice Sendak’s classic children’s book, Where The Wild Things Are, provided the perfect subject for Knussen’s first opera, telling the story of a mischievous boy, Max, who, having been sent to bed without any supper, sails off to a land inhabited by the strange and frightening Wild Things – and comes back home again to find his dinner still warm on the table. Sendak’s marvellous book has many of the qualities of Knussen’s music. Simultaneously knowing yet naive, it combines a sense of childlike wonder with a trace of the emotional murkiness which gives both book and opera their psychological power. The story also provides plenty of gilt-edged musical opportunities – from the moonstruck magic of Max’s sea-crossing to the Bacchanalian frenzy of the Wild Rumpus – all of which Knussen seizes gleefully.

Wild Things forms part of an operatic double bill with Knussen’s second chamber opera, Higglety Pigglety Pop!, also to a libretto by Sendak. Although the latter work doesn’t quite match Wild Things for dramatic cogency and expressive power, its surreal fairy-tale plot and unusual cast of characters (the lead role is taken by a dog, accompanied by various other animals, plus a baby, a tree and a potted plant) offers Knussen scope for plenty of off-beat musical fun and games, culminating in the mock-Mozartian finale – a miniature opera within an opera – with which the work concludes.

CD Recommendations

3X Where The Wild Things Are; Higglety Pigglety Pop!: Buchan, Saffer, Hardy, Gillett, Wilson-Johnson, Richardson, King; London Sinfonietta; Knussen (Deutsche Grammophon 469 556-2)
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Knussen remains unchallenged as a performer of his own works, making light of complex textures and attacking the more energetic passages with exhilarating bravado. Lisa Saffer pulls off the challenging part of Max in Wild Things with wonderful vocal agility and a convincingly bright and boyish tone, while Cynthia Buchan makes an unforgettably tragi-comic Sealyham terrier in the lead role of Higglety Pigglety Pop!
Sheet Music by Knussen