British composer, conductor, artist and writer Noah Max has been granted the rights to perform his first chamber opera, The Child in the Striped Pyjamas. The work is based on the 2006 novel The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne. However, the rights have been owned by American film and TV company Miramax since the company adapted it for film in 2008.
Max, who also wrote the libretto, adapted the story for opera during lockdown in 2021, completing the 75-minute, two-act piece in September of that year. He received interest in staging the work from music festivals Grimeborn and Tête à Tête.
However, in order to stage the opera, Max would require permission from rights owner Miramax. The composer was aware that in 2017 the company had granted limited rights to Northern Ballet to stage its dance show based on the book for $5,000.
But when Max spoke to Miramax, the Hollywood giant demanded $1million, even though the composer made it clear he was not intending to make any money from the project. The opera also had the backing of novelist Boyne, as well as the Jewish Music Institute, World Jewish Relief and Holocaust survivor Lydia Tischler.
After intervention from the Jewish Chronicle, however, Miramax relented, agreeing to grant performance rights for $5,000.
The book is set in Nazi Germany and tells of the horrors of a concentration camp through the eyes of two nine-year-old boys. Bruno is the son of the camp commander, while Schmuel is a Jewish prisoner. The two boys meet across the wire fence and become friends. As they become closer, Bruno learns the terrible truth of what lies beyond the fence, and what life is like for his friend.
The opera has been renamed The Child in the Striped Pyjamas because the part has been written for a female mezzo-soprano. Max is now revising the score and hopes the work will premiere early next year.
This has been a deeply personal project for Max, whose maternal grandparents fled Austria in the 1930s in the face of increased antisemitism as the Nazis rose to power. He now hopes his work will help to educate people on the impact of antisemitism.
The book is not without its critics, who argue that it is historically inaccurate and damaging to the cause of Holocaust education. The prison camp is a thinly veiled representation of Auschwitz, it is said, where young children would have been sent straight to the gas chambers. Bruno would likely have joined the Hitler Youth and not been unaware of antisemitism.
Max acknowledges these criticisms, but says that the story is clearly a fable, and no one could walk out of his opera thinking it was a true story.
British composer Noah Max has secured rights to perform his new chamber opera, The Child in the Striped Pyjamas.The London-based composer has gained permission from Hollywood giant Miramax to stage The Child in the Striped Pyjamas.