Oliver KNUSSEN (b. 1952)
Two Fantasy Operas based on the books by Maurice Sendak:-
Where the Wild Things Are (1979-83)
Higglety Pigglety Pop! (1984-85)
Karen Beardsley – Max (Where The Wild Things Are); Cynthia
Buchan – Jennie, the terrier (Higglety Pigglety Pop!); Andrew
Gallacher; Rosemary Hardy; Hugh Hetherington; Neil Jenkins; Mary
King; Jeremy Munro; Stephen Rhys-Williams; Deborah Rees; Stephen
Glyndebourne Festival Opera
London Sinfonietta/Oliver Knussen
Filmed at Glyndebourne Festival Opera in August 1985
first shown on BBC TV in 1985.
Librettist and designer: Maurice Sendak
Picture format NTSC
Directed by Frank Corsaro
Directed for Videogram by Christopher Swann
Regions 2, 3, 4, 5; NTSC 4:3 FF
WARNER MUSIC ENTERTAINMENT
Working as I did at Glyndebourne for a dozen years during the 1970s and 1980s was a revelation. I say this, if only because of the unique work ethic which had grown from the heady years in which it was founded (1934), generated by the dynamic duo of director Carl Ebert and conductor Fritz Busch. Music rehearsals began every production, stripping away all preconceptions and other baggage which singers from all over the world might bring with them. The tales I could tell, but that, as they say, is another story.
The music was always already written and available for study; contemporary music was not part of Glyndebourne’s tradition. Its founder John Christie was heard answering a member of the public who, in the dinner interval, had asked if he was enjoying Hans Werner Henze’s Elegy for Young Lovers. ‘You see those sheep up there on the hill? Well, when we play Mozart, they are down here’. I experienced and worked on a couple of new works; one was Nicholas Maw’s The Rising of the Moon (both fine and funny) and these two one-act operas by Oliver Knussen. Never before had we had a situation where the ink was drying as pages were received for the singers to learn – a slight exaggeration maybe, but the point is made that Knussen, now one of our most eminent living composers, was (and perhaps still is) slow and meticulously thorough in his writing. The result was fabulous, the music approachable and beautifully crafted, the productions inventive, the sets and costumes stunning. Corsaro was a very funny over-the-top director lacking only a Groucho Marx cigar permanently in his mouth. By contrast librettist and designer Maurice Sendak, was quiet, thoughtful, and without a second thought generously signed my oldest son’s copy of Where the Wild Things are.
Karen Beardsley, whose career strangely did not fulfil the promise she demonstrated as Max in Wild Things, gives an endearingly childlike performance, wilfully uncontrolled as she defies his weary mother: gifted interpreter of contemporary music Mary King, now operating as a much-in-demand vocal trainer on and off TV. The monsters, Hugh Hetherington, Jeremy Munro, Stephen Rhys-Williams and Andrew Gallagher, and who are apparently based on relatives who came to weekly dinners at Sendak’s childhood home, groan, moan and cry out wordlessly in their huge costumes. For weeks my daughter went around the house, sword in hand, uttering Max’s war-cry (roughly Arvy-Barvy-Ah. Mee-Ah!). I don’t know many three year-olds who go around singing phrases from Oliver Knussen’s music.
Higglety Pigglety Pop! (or There must be more to life than having everything) is a surreal tale of Jennie (a Sealyham Terrier) discontented with her lot. She is in this state despite reassurances from a singing potted geranium - which she then eats - that she is better off not going ‘outside’ with all her possessions in a black bag. She does, and meets the Alice in Wonderland characters who populate this weird allegory: a milkman cat, a pig in a sandwich board, a fearsome lion, a parlour maid, a baby and a duetting ash tree. Beautifully sung by Cynthia Buchan, Deborah Rees, Andrew Gallagher, Neil Jenkins, Rosemary Hardy and Stephen Richardson, this and The Wild Things are expertly accompanied by the London Sinfonietta and Knussen himself. This double-bill, as I recall it, was remarkably popular with the traditionally conservative Glyndebourne audience, which in itself gives this DVD a strong fillip.
In Max’s words, ‘Let the Wild Rumpus begin’.