The Little Prince

West Coast Premiere of The Little Prince

Sfolittleprince * Notes *
The West Coast premiere of Rachel Portman's The Little Prince was last night in Berkeley. Portman's music is benign enough, quite light and pretty.
The strongest point was the end of Act I, the lamplighter ensemble. It is not surprising the composer won an Academy Award for Best Original Score in 1996 for the film Emma. The libretto, by Nicholas Wright, included much text not from the book, which was disorienting at first. The novella sits a bit awkwardly as an opera, though the latter is both whimsical and cute, it is also somewhat trite. Directed by Francesca Zambello, the staging was well done, Maria Bjørnson's artful set and costumes worked nicely. The baobabs were hilarious, and the costumes were no small part of this.

The cast was a veritable showcase of the Adler Fellowship Program, nearly all were former or current Adler Fellows. Two of the latter, Kenneth Kellogg and Andrew Bidlack, both sounded great as the King and the Lamplighter, respectively. Tamara Wapinsky sang prettily as the Water, though in some of the ensembles she was easy to pick out, because of her volume and vibrato. Ji Young Yang's diction has improved, her liquids are clearly distinguished, but her vowels could use more work. Her voice remains exceedingly bright and lovely. Marie Lenormand was charming as the Fox, her movement was good, her voice nice, and her diction nearly perfect. Thomas Glenn was fantastic as the Vain Man, his volume was good and he was very funny. As the Snake he had a few moments of being overwhelmed by the orchestra. Tovi Wayne was an adorable Little Prince, his voice certainly has an otherworldly beauty. At times Wayne's intonation was not pitch perfect, and he was very loud, so I suspect he was amplified. The Pilot, baritone Eugene Brancoveanu, was wonderful. At worst, some of his vowels were slightly off, but his voice is warm and resonant and his acting was fine.

Sara Jobin conducted well, the musicians were together, and for the most part, also with the singers. There was a weak moment with the Hunters, but it was brief and will likely be sorted out in the coming performances. The San Francisco Girls Chorus and the San Francisco Boys Chorus both did a fine job. There were a few distractions with props not working exactly as they should, but the children's voices were splendid.

* Tattling *
The part of the Little Prince is shared between two boys, but I don't know if I can muster up the enthusiasm to see this opera again. It will be the first time in five years that I haven't seen a San Francisco Opera production more than once. The audience did not include as many children as one would expect, but perhaps it was because it was opening night. One girl behind me pressed her legs quite vigorously against the back of my seat. Certainly this is one way of not falling asleep. The woman next to me on the orchestra level, in Row O Seat 107, keeps her opera glasses in a plastic bag. Of course, she arrived too late to take them out of her purse before the music. She spent at least one minute fumbling around, trying to extract the plastic bag from her tiny beaded purse, and the glasses from the plastic bag. Later on, her purse emitted a loud beep, which prompted her to drink some water, but not to turn off whatever electronic device made this sound. Perhaps it was a reminder to take medication. In any case, she and her date did not return after intermission.


Operas based on Le Petit Prince

LepetitprinceHouston Grand Opera's 2003 production of The Little Prince opens tomorrow at Zellerbach Hall on the UC Berkeley campus. The opera, by Rachel Portman, is in English, and the production is the work of Francesca Zambello. There are also two other operas based on Antoine de Saint Exupéry's Le Petit Prince, Nikolaus Schapfl's Der Kleine Prinz (2003) and a 1964 Russian version from Lev Knipper.

Initially I felt quite skeptical about an operatic version of Le Petit Prince. I first read the book as an 8th grader, because it was assigned to my best friend in French class, and was attracted to the charming pictures and to the word baobab. Since then I've re-read the novella a dozen times, and as for so many people, it is one of my favorites.

The opera in Berkeley looks much like the book, and also features a very fine baritone, Eugene Brancoveanu, as the pilot. Two children share the role of the Prince, Tovi Wayne and Tyler Polen. Tenor Thomas Glenn sings the Snake and the Vain Man and Marie Lenormand is the Fox. The other two parts are taken by current Adler Fellows Ji Young Yang (the Rose) and Tamara Wapinsky (the Water).

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