The Little Prince

Music by Rachel Portman, libretto by Nicholas Wright, based on the book by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Houston Grand Opera

Wortham Theater Center

From 04 December 2015 to 20 December 2015

Review by Keith Dorwick

In the States, we seem to have fewer options for Christmas theatre and opera going than most readers of the British Theatre Guide do; US theatres, for the most part, don’t offer the pantomimes that are such a standard part of the theatrical fare during the holiday season.

The result? Many competing productions of various adaptations of A Christmas Carol all over the USA. Not that those aren’t welcome, of course (at least one Christmas Carol is a staple of my personal holiday season, along with yet another Nutcracker), but it was good to see something new, at least to me.

For that reason alone, Houston Grand Opera’s production of The Little Prince, an adaptation by Rachel Portman (music) and Nicolas Wright (libretto) of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s children's book The Little Prince, would have been refreshing and welcome. The fact that their production, a revival of their 2003 commission, was absolutely marvellous, even magical, made it even more welcome.

Everything comes together: the singers, the instrumentalists, lighting and costumes all are done with a loving care that makes for a wonderful evening in Houston’s Wortham Center. As always with opera, the voices are key.

Joshua Hopkins (The Pilot, the narrator of the piece) has a strong, beautiful baritone with very clear diction that makes the supertitles (projections above the stage of the text) unnecessary. Hopkins also has movie star good looks that are just right for the pilot desperate to get home, a character originally modelled after the author of the book that is the source of the opera.

Andy Jones (one of the two singers of the title role in this production) is a wonder: he has a clear voice, as trebles so famously do, but he also has an engaging stage presence with a concentration that might be the envy of many adult performers. When the other principals are singing their hearts out, Jones listens to their every word.

The other characters are handled well. I especially enjoyed the character work of the Fox (mezzo-soprano Sofia Selowsky) and the Rose (soprano Pureum Jo); tenor Chris Bozeka plays two very different characters (the Drunkard and the Lamplighter) with vocal production so unique to each that I didn’t realise they were played by the same singer till after the curtain was down.

The Houston Grand Opera Children’s Chorus also provides great listening pleasure—they are adorable, but they are also fine musicians for their age, as directed by Karen Reeves.

However, a real glory of The Little Prince is its production at HGO: the late Maria Bjørnson’s set and costume designs are both gorgeous and playful, with a quiet beauty of their own, such as when the Little Prince is flown from world to world by origami cranes. Francesca Zambello’s staging is serviceable enough—though it does seem to involve the Prince running on and off stage a lot, so many times I found it a bit distracting.

All together, it is a fine evening at the opera; I just wish companies would produce The Little Prince more often, whether at Yuletide, or not.