Hollywood giant relents over $1m demand to stage Holocaust opera

Miramax has agreed to waive a demand from a young British composer to secure the rights to set The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas to music, following the JC’s intervention


Film giant Miramax has agreed to waive a demand for $1 million from young British composer Noah Max to secure the rights to set popular Holocaust book The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas to music, following the JC’s intervention.

Miramax, which owns the rights to the story after making a film of it in 2008, initially told Mr Max he must hand he hand over $1million to have his opera based on the book performed — even though he made it clear he is not intending to make any money from the project.

Even an endorsement for his project from author Mr Boyne, as well as the Jewish Music Institute, World Jewish Relief and renowned Holocaust survivor Lydia Tischler, made no difference to Miramax’s position.

Mr Max had spent 18 months attempting to persuade Miramax to relent from what he called their “ridiculous” demand, pointing out that Northern Ballet in Leeds had acquired limited rights to perform the story for just £5,000 in 2017. Through his representative at United Music Publishing, Mr Max had asked Miramax for a similar deal.

He told the JC: “I made contact repeatedly with Miramax and received only an occasional monosyllabic response as my request bounced between departments, and also between them and Paramount, who recently became a minority owner of Miramax.”

But after the JC contacted Miramax to ask why they would not offer Mr Max the same deal as Northern Ballet, the film company relented, emailing the composer last Thursday with the news he had waited eighteen months to hear.

The opera has been a deeply personal project for him. His grandparents fled the Nazis and setting to music to John Boyne’s story about a friendship between a young Jewish death camp inmate and the son of the camp’s Nazi commandant was his opportunity to educate the world about antisemitism and what it can lead to.

He has changed the name to The Child in Striped Pyjamas because the boy’s voice is that of a female mezzo soprano.

The project has attracted interest from London-based opera company Tete a Tete and next month Mr Max will visit the Holocaust Educational Trust to discuss why the book should be encouraged in the classroom.

Explaining how he hit upon the idea of an opera, Mr Max — who is also a conductor — said: “My late mentor John Whitfield and I first spoke about a chamber opera on Boyne’s The Boy in Striped Pyjamas in 2018. John lived in Israel for a few years and played with the Israel Chamber Orchestra under [Rudolf] Barshai and he wanted me to explore my Jewish identity, and the awful fate that befell my ancestors, through music. He passed away the following year. This idea was in many ways John’s parting gift.”

When the pandemic came, Mr Max found he had time to sit down and compose the chamber opera. He said: “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.

“The music explores the destruction of humanity’s innocence by the Holocaust through a father’s inability to face the fact that his own evil actions led directly to the murder of his child.

“My Echo Ensemble [Mr Noah’s orchestra] family and I agree it is incredibly important and timely work that we desperately want and need to share with the world.”

The Boy in Striped Pyjamas has been a source of controversy, with some critics arguing that the book contains historical inaccuracies that damage the cause of Holocaust education.

Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive