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Where the Wild Things Are (opera) facts for kids

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Where the Wild Things Are, Op. 20, is a fantasy opera in one act, nine scenes, by Oliver Knussen to a libretto by Maurice Sendak, based on Sendak's own 1963 children's book of the same title. Knussen composed the music from 1979 to 1983, on commission from the Opèra National, Brussels.

In form and subject matter the work relates to Maurice Ravel's L'enfant et les sortilèges, as well as Stravinsky's The Nightingale. Knussen also included a number of musical quotations, including Debussy's La boîte à joujoux and the bell motif from the coronation scene of Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov. Robin Holloway has noted affinities of the score with aspects of Harrison Birtwistle's Punch and Judy and Benjamin Britten's Death in Venice.


Role Voice type Premiere cast, 28 November 1980
(Conductor: Ronald Zollman)
Max soprano Jane Manning
Mama mezzo-soprano Gwendoline Neish-Ross
Tzippy/female Wild Thing Jenny Weston
Moishe/Wild Thing with Beard tenor Hugh Hetherington Perry Davey
Bruno/Wild Thing with Horns baritone Jeremy Munro Cenzig Saner
Emile/Rooster Wild Thing bass-baritone Stephen Rhys-Williams Brian Andro
Bernard/Bull Wild Thing bass Andrew Gallacher Bernard Bennett
Goat Wild Thing dance-mime, tenor Hugh Hetherington Mike Gallant
Sea-Monster Wild Thing prop

The published score notes that "all the Wild Things should be played by dancers on stage with singers (amplified) off-stage".


Max is a rambunctious boy who dresses in a wolf suit. After he throws a tantrum, Mama (his mother) confines him to his room. Max then escapes in his dreams to a forest, and then to the island of the Wild Things. The Wild Things eventually hail Max as their king, and the "coronation" culminates in a frenzied dance, the Wild Rumpus. In the course of the Rumpus, Tzippy, the female Wild Thing, loses her head, which causes Max to halt the Rumpus. At the end, the dream is over, and Max starts to eat the food his Mama had left for him during his dream time.


  • Unicorn-Kanchana DKP 9044 / Arabesque 6535-L: Rosemary Hardy, Mary King, Hugh Hetherington, Stephen Richardson, Stephen Rhys-Williams, Andrew Gallacher; London Sinfonietta; Oliver Knussen, conductor
  • Deutsche Grammophon 469 556-2: Lisa Saffer, Mary King, Christopher Gillett, Quentin Hayes, David Wilson-Johnson, Stephen Richardson; London Sinfonietta; Oliver Knussen, conductor
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