Friday 22 April 2022

Noah Max's opera The Child in the Striped Pyjamas to go ahead thanks to film company's change of heart regarding the rights

Noah Max
Noah Max
In 2017, Northern Ballet in Leeds premiered The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas with choreography by Daniel de Andrade and music by Gary Yerson. The ballet was based on the 2006 book by John Boyne, but more importantly for financial issues, the rights to the book were owned by Miramax which has produced a film based on the book in 2008. However, Miramax granted Northern Ballet limited rights to the story for a fee of around £5,000. 

Which meant that when composer Noah Max decided to turn the book into an opera, he was under the mistaken impression that it would be possible to negotiate a similar deal. Max's opera, The Child in the Striped Pyjamas (the boy in question is sung by a female mezzo-soprano) was finished in September last year, following successful workshops, and is a 75 minute piece in two acts. 

The opera's subject is a personal one for Max, his grandparents fled the Nazi's and he sees setting the story to music as a way of addressing antisemitism, and he is hoping that the piece can be used as a springboard for discussions in schools about the issues surrounding antisemitism. The story is not unproblematic, and the original book has been criticised for its historical inaccuracies, but Max used the lockdown to sit down and finally address the idea of the opera, he comments "It was immensely difficult work which forced me to challenge the roots of my belief system. It also brought me closer to Judaism and my family history."

Unfortunately, Miramax thought otherwise and demanded a fee of $1 million for the rights. Max is certainly not the first composer to fall foul of the arcane world of copyright and performing rights, and many of us have our own stories. 

Despite positive endorsements from John Boyne as well as the Jewish Music Institute and World Jewish Relief, it took the intervention of the press in the form of The Jewish Chronicle to made Miramax see sense and allow Noah Max to receive a similar deal to the one offered to Northern Ballet.

Max is currently revising the opera and editing the vocal score in the hope that, now he has the rights, a performance can follow.

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