On 12 December Oliver Knussen’s fantasy opera after Maurice Sendak Where the Wild Things Are will receive its Austrian premiere at the Theater an der Wien in a new production from director Nikolaus Habjan. Stephan Zilias conducts the Wiener Symphoniker in 12 performances, which will be sung in German. Watch a trailer for the production here.
The one-act opera, lasting forty minutes, is cast in nine scenes. It tells the tale of Max, a young boy in a wolf suit. After throwing a tantrum, his mother sends him to his room. Max then escapes the confines of his bedroom in his dreams, sailing to a forested island, inhabited by the Wild Things, who all sing in a language specially invented for the opera. Max is eventually hailed as their King, acclaimed as the ‘most wild thing of all’. At the end, Max awakens from his dream and eats the food his mother left for him whilst asleep.
Though a fantasy opera that often has a dreamlike mood, the scenario explores elemental, formative experiences of change, fury, growth, and survival. Its first version premiered at Brussels National Opera conducted by Ronald Zollman in 1980; the revised version was first performed at London’s National Theatre from Glyndebourne Opera and the London Sinfonietta in 1984. It would subsequently appear at the Glyndebourne Festival in a double bill with Knussen’s other Sendak-inspired opera Higglety Pigglety Pop! (1984-5, rev. 1999).
In Vienna the role of Max will be sung Jasmin Delfs, alongside Katrin Wundsam (Mama and Tzippy), Peter Kirk (Wild Thing with Beard and Goat Wild Thing), Zoltan Nagy (Wild Thing with Horns), Matthias Hoffmann (Rooster Wild Thing), and Martin Summer (Bull Wild Thing); Angelo Konzett and Anderson Pinheiro da Silva are the production’s puppeteers.
Where the Wild Things Are has received over 300 performances since its premiere. Recent outings include the Barbican Theatre and Aldeburgh Festival (from Ryan Wigglesworth and Britten Sinfonia), Walt Disney Concert Hall (conducted by Gustavo Dudamel and directed by Netia Jones), and in 2016/17 its Brazilian debut at the Theatro São Pedro (São Paulo) and Teatro Amazonas (Manaus). Its most recent performance was a semi-staging in July 2022 from the Bamberg Symphony and Shadwell Opera, directed by Jack Furness and conducted by Finnegan Downie Dear.