When Maurice Sendak’s fantastical rendition of “Nutcracker” debuted in 1983, the illustrator wrote in his journal: “I am baptized finally into a new theater life.” Already celebrated for his contributions to children’s literature with “Where the Wild Things Are” and various other works, Sendak’s foray into the theatrical space cast his singular vision in a new dimension.
Sendak’s second career as a ballet and opera designer will serve as the focus of an upcoming exhibition at the Morgan Library & Museum. Titled “Drawing the Curtain: Maurice Sendak’s Designs for Opera and Ballet,” the show will include nearly 150 objects and marks the first time the artist’s stage designs will be shown in a museum setting.
“This exhibition will be a wonderful surprise to those who are familiar with Sendak primarily through his beloved books,” said curator Rachel Federman in a statement. “His designs for opera and ballet have all the beauty, humor and complexity of his picture books and illustrations, but they also put on full display his passion for art, art history and music.”
Sendak began designing sets and costumes in 1978 when he was invited to bring a new production of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” to life for the Houston Grand Opera. In sketches of the production, the artist’s muted jewel palette and the dark undertones found in his previous works carry over, forming an aesthetic through line to his literary roots.
“Drawing the Curtain” will feature these sketches, along with storyboard panels, dioramas, watercolor costume studies, scene and act curtain designs, props and more. Items on display will be drawn predominately from Sendak’s most well-known productions, including “The Magic Flute,” Janáček’s “Cunning Little Vixen,” Prokofiev’s “Love for Three Oranges,” “Nutcracker” and an opera based on “Where the Wild Things Are.”
The Morgan, which houses around 900 works by Sendak, served as a well of inspiration for the illustrator, who, according to a statement, visited the museum to research drawings by William Blake, manuscripts by Mozart, works by Giambattista and Domenico Tiepolo and more. Examples of these works will be on display alongside Sendak’s original pieces to pay homage to the connection between Sendak and the library.
“Few people know that Maurice Sendak had a long and productive relationship with the Morgan,” said the museum’s director, Colin B. Bailey, in an announcement. “It is exciting to focus on his work as a theater designer, which is an often overlooked but important aspect of his career as an artist.”
“Drawing the Curtain: Maurice Sendak’s Designs for Opera and Ballet” will be up at the Morgan Library & Museum June 14-Oct. 6.
Top Image: Show scrim for "The Magic Flute," Maurice Sendak.