The Little Prince

Opera Parallèle's The Little Prince

Lp_dress1_3895* Notes * 
Opera Parallèle revived last year's production of The Little Prince this weekend at the Marines' Memorial Theatre. The opera is perfectly charming and the feminist twist of having mostly female principals worked well.

I had a better appreciation for Nicholas Wright's libretto this time around -- it is concise -- condensing some 90 pages of text into showing us the story rather than telling it to us. Composer Rachel Portman is instrumental in all of this, naturally, and the music is both lovely and engaging. 

It is always a joy to hear conductor Nicole Paiement, even if the ensemble only had a pianist and percussionist, it never felt anything less than lithe and completely together.

The members of the San Francisco Girls Chorus as stars and birds sounded otherworldly, as did our title role Little Prince, Erin Enriquez (pictured with Christabel Nunoo as the Snake, photograph by Steve DiBartolomeo). Enriquez has a bell-like sweetness that was only occasionally marred by staticky feedback from her microphone. In contrast, it is not surprising at all to see that mezzo-soprano Eve Gigliotti (The Pilot) is singing Siegrune in Die Walküre at The Met this spring, she has a fabulously dramatic voice.

Mezzo-soprano Kindra Scharich is a delight as The Fox, her warm, supple sound suits the role. Soprano Sabrina Romero-Wilson sang the vain, silly but lovable Rose with clarity, while soprano Maggie Finnegan was quite haunting as The Water. Soprano Christabel Nunoo sang The Snake with both beauty and menace.

Of the quartet of male singers, all of whom sang various grownups found on neighboring asteroids 325 to 330, tenor J. Raymond Meyers is most memorable, partially because he plays a catchy kazoo tune, and partially because he is dressed as Elvis. Baritone Zachary Lenox is funny as The Businessman counting his stars, as is bass-baritone Philip Skinner as a King who doesn't have much power at all. Tenor Samuel Faustine is endearing as The Drunkard and the hapless Lamplighter who suggests Earth to the Little Prince.

Hats off to director Brian Staufenbiel for a very attractive production that doesn't try to slavishly mimic Saint-Exupéry's illustrations. The visuals are courtesy of Matt Kish (best known for his Moby-Dick monograph) and David Murakami, the look is much more urban and contemporary than the original book.

* Tattling * 
This was my four year old son's first full opera performance excluding those he was present for in utero. He is a nervous little boy with sensory processing sensitivity (in fact, he hid during a rendition of "Happy Birthday" earlier that day) so we did a lot of preparation, including reading the book and watching the opera beforehand on YouTube. He seemed to like the experience and was very quiet and still for the full 95 minutes.

A couple near the front and middle of the orchestra level brought their toddler and baby, but got to the performance late and had to leave early, as the baby was crying during Act II.

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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