Baltimore audiences had an opportunity to savor Mr. Sendak's distinctive designs in a production of Humperdinck's "Hansel and Gretel" presented by the late Baltimore Opera Company in 2000. That staging, originally for Houston Grand Opera and used by other companies over the years, made quite a statement. Please forgive the self-quoting, but here's what I wrote 12 years ago:
Maurice Sendak has seized on the shadowy insinuations of "Hansel and Gretel" in designing the eye-catching scenery ... The famed illustrator of children's books fills the Lyric Opera House stage with fanciful trees and buildings that hide spooky faces; the witch's house has roving eyes. The witch herself is first seen as a giant, menacing figure flying about on a broom, her giant jaw in constant chomping mode, looking for fresh victims.
The musical performance did not live up to the scenic potential, but Mr. Sendak's contribution proved memorable. Among other operas he designed are ... Mozart's "The Magic Flute" (the latter, which I saw in the early '90s in a Florida Grand Opera production, created an engaging fairy tale for adults), Janacek's "The Cunning Little Vixen" and Prokofiev's "Love of Three Oranges."
Here are a couple of video clips from "Hansel" (at the Opera Company of Philadelphia) and "Oranges" (at Glyndebourne) that provide at least a taste of the magic this brilliant illustrator could bring to the operatic realm:
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