is just as much an allegory for adults (perhaps more so) as a story
for children. It is full of symbolism and simply told...For anyone wanting
to introduce a child to opera, this is the one to show them--better
still, to take them to."
David Mermelstein - May 8, 2005
New York City Opera has scheduled eight peformances of Ms. Zambello's
production in No vermber, but impatient music lovers can see it now,
on a DVD from Sony Classical that preserves the enchanting Houston
staging in a manner that both children and adults should enjoy."
May 8, 2005
and unlike any other opera..."
Medrek April 29, 2005
musical setting of the story...is full of warmth, wisdom and generous
lyric beauty. But the production by director Francesca Zambello and
designer Maria Bjornson is so thoroughly enchanting that, given the
choice, there's no question that you should opt for the DVD version."
Anna Picard - November 28,
you and your children missed Francesca Zambellos enchanting film
of Rachel Portmans opera The Little Princepremiered on BBC
2 last nightI doubt you will have more than 54 weeks to wait for
a repeat broadcast. Like Menottis Amahl and the Night Visitors,
which The Little Prince recalls in even measure with Brittens
Ceremony of Carols, Portmans opera has the hallmark of an instant
Christmas classic. With delicious designs from the late Maria Bjornsonthe
prettiest Ive seen since Bergmans film of Die Zauberfloteand
excellent performances from 11 year-old Joseph McManners, 15 year-old
Maired Carlin, a 38-strong chorus of children, and operatic luminaries
such as Willard White, The Little Prince is a significant addition to
the small but crucial canon of childrens operas. Delightful."
handled, The Little Prince makes a lovely opera. It might do well
"...[the music] is unfailingly graceful and civil, and acutely
responsive to the mood of the stage. Like opera at its 16th
century beginnings, Ms. Portmans work lifts words in the air
and carries them along."
"...Charming as Maria Bjornson's sets and costumes are and as
nicely handled as Francesca Zambello's direction is, they depend on
Nicholas Wright's inventive rhyming to give them life. Lighting (by
Rick Fisher) becomes as important as Rachel Portman's music. It is
hard to ssay whose opera this is; it is perhaps collective: modest
parts exceeded by their sum."
"Ms. Bjornson's stage pictures, nearly finished before her death
in December, create fantasy through strong color."
forgot to tell Boston Lyric Opera, the Wang Center and the opera companies
around the country who co-produced ``The Little Prince'' the do's
and don'ts of creating a new opera. How else to explain the joyous
effect it made at its East Coast premiere at the Shubert Theatre last
night? It was obvious that nobody told Oscar-winning composer (for
``Emma'') Rachel Portman that music in a new opera should be as dull
and ``smart''-sounding as possible. Instead of showing off everything
she learned in composing school, Portman created a heartfelt musical
score that heightens the action, nicely delineates the various characters,
offers singers opportunities to shine and, since its premiere in Houston
in 2003, has been delighting audiences."
staging (realized here mostly by assistant director/choreographer
Denni Sayers) combined perfectly with Portman's music to convey the
charm, humor and depth of the classic story by Antoine de Saint-Exupery,
finely adapted by playwright Nicholas Wright."
"With the aid of stage director Francesca Zambello, playwright
Nicholas Wright and the late designer Maria Bjørnson, [Rachel]
Portman has brought The Little Prince tantalizingly close to a major
"Zambello's staging reflected the cunning skill of a director
whose work ranges from opera to television to Disneyworld."
"The music was unrelentingly appealing. Bjørnson's designs
repeatedly provoked the child in the overwhelmingly adult audience..."
"Portmans The Little Prince was unfailingly attractive--simple,
a moving, melodic score, Portman portrays Saint-Exuperys characters
with a delicate combination of humour and poignancy."
"...a testament to the creative team behind Houston Grand Opera's
world premiere of The Little Prince that it was able to craft an enchanting
opera that is both faithful to the book and satisfying to child and
design, by the late Maria Bjornson, is a cornucopia of delight. Her
circular false proscenium abounds with steps and grip bars for singers
to perch on and cling to and of openings and swing-down cantilevers
from which they can emerge."
"Visually, "The Little Prince" is profoundly beautiful."
"Rachel Portman's music is pretty. Portman's placid harmonies
and flowing lines sit best in the choruses, where countermelodies
slide over one another luxuriously."
before the final curtain
most of the jewel-bedecked, black-tied
opera buffs in the opening night audience for the premiere of Rachel
Portmans The Little Prince, were fumbling for hankies and brushing
"...Portman handles standard idioms with a level of skill bordering
"Judging from the extraordinary impact the piece made on opening
night, it seems quite possible that The Little Prince will enter the
international repertoire, permanently."
"It is Portmans music that gives the work its heart-wrenching
"...Portman orchestrates wonderfully...she also shows a magnificent
command of vocal writing in her first foray into opera."
Posted on Mon, Jun. 02, 2003
Music is heart of 'Little Prince'
By Wayne Lee Gay
Star-Telegram Classical Music Critic
Long before the final curtain Saturday night at Houston's Cullen Theater,
most of the jewel-bedecked, black-tied opera buffs in the opening-night
audience for the premiere of Rachel Portman's The Little Prince, were
fumbling for hankies and brushing away tears.
Based on French philosopher-aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupery's novella
Le Petit Prince, the beloved international classic written in 1943, this
newest addition to Houston Grand Opera's impressive list of premieres
substantially enhances the company's well-established role as the world's
leading presenter of new operas.
While Saint-Exupery's moving parable of self-discovery is the foundation
of the opera's appeal, it is composer Portman's music that gives the work
its heart-wrenching impact. She is the first woman to win an Oscar for
a film score (for Emma).
In The Little Prince, she works with a stylistically conservative, film-score
pallette of attractive, catchy melodies and traditional harmonies.
Although she doesn't break any new ground stylistically, Portman handles
standard idioms with a level of skill bordering on genius.
It is understandable that, as a seasoned writer of film music, Portman
orchestrates wonderfully, but it is surprising that she also shows a magnificent
command of vocal writing in her first foray into opera.
The juvenile role of the Prince (sung by 11-year-old Nathaniel Irvin)
is handled with impressive reserve so that the young voice is not overworked
and always used to good advantage.
The Pilot (Teddy Tahu Rhodes), a lyric baritone, is always carefully maneuvered
into the soaring melodies Portman gives him; the Rose (soprano Kristin
Reiersen) and the Water (soprano Laquita Mitchell) both have gorgeous
arias that inspired extended ovations on opening night.
British playwright Nicholas Wright creates a delicate, rhymed version
of the story, aimed at the key line that states the theme of both book
and opera: "The heart sees far more clearly than the eyes."
Director Francesca Zambello, who has been involved with the project from
its initial stages, presented a gently paced, whimsical concept, visually
realized by designer Maria Bjornson, who died in December.
Patrick Summers, who has become an experienced hand at premiering operas
in Houston, conducted with a perfect balance of taste and sentiment.
Judging from the extraordinary impact the piece made on opening night,
it seems quite possible that The Little Prince will enter the international
June 2, 2003, 10:47AM
HGO's 'Prince' proves charming
By CHARLES WARD
Copyright 2003 Houston Chronicle
its latest world premiere -- the 27th -- Houston Grand Opera has tackled
one of the genre's trickiest tasks: translating into musical form a book
the entire world seems to know.
The Little Prince, the Antoine de Saint-Exupéry fable about the
extraordinary power of childlike innocence, has proved indestructibly
popular since the French pilot/author published it in 1943, the year before
he disappeared on a reconnaissance mission during World War II. It's been
translated into more than 140 languages plus many more dialects.
When Academy Award-winning composer Rachel Portman set out to write her
first opera, she too fell under the spell of the little boy who has come
to earth from a small planet so he can find a way to save it from ravenous
baobab trees and protect the flower he loves.
With the aid of stage director Francesca Zambello, playwright Nicholas
Wright and the late designer Maria Bjornson, Portman has brought The Little
Prince tantalizingly close to a major operatic success.
At the premiere Saturday in the Wortham Theater Center's Cullen Theater,
Portman's The Little Prince was unfailingly attractive -- simple, communicative,
The music was unrelentingly appealing. Bjornson's designs repeatedly provoked
the child in the overwhelmingly adult audience, which chuckled at her
whimsical treatment of the volcanoes and baobobs on the Prince's tiny
star, and the hunters, Fox, Snake and other characters he meets on his
journey through the solar system. Zambello's staging reflected the cunning
skill of a director whose work ranges from opera to television to Disneyworld.
The great strength of Portman's work lay in Wright's fabulous libretto.
While faithfully following the outline of the original, leisurely flowing
story, he skillfully transformed it into taut scenes and striking verse.
That was a major achievement, for the best operas overwhelmingly are blood-and-guts
dramas or gentle comedies, not philosophical musings like The Little Prince.
For every idealistic Magic Flute by Mozart, there are dozens of turbulent
tales like Verdi's La Traviata.
Wright's work clearly inspired Portman. In scene after scene she wrote
compelling vocal music -- arias for the Pilot, the Little Prince and other
characters; smoothly contoured ensembles for the children's chorus portraying
the birds that guided the prince from planet to planet; and stirring ensembles
to close each of the two acts.
Wright and Portman found the right balance between sentiment and seriousness.
The scene in which the Fox so subtly teaches the Little Prince about love
and friendship would have been heart-wrenching had it dealt with the subject
in adult ways. Instead it gently probed, giving the listener space to
Portman's music had all the craftsmanship and beauty of her best film
scores -- she won an Oscar for her music for Emma -- but at times it suffered
from the inherent deference of film music. When the beautifully orchestrated
score should have grabbed and shaken the listener, it remained fundamentally
That was most noticeable in orchestral interludes accompanying moments
like the sunset the Little Prince watches early in Act 1. Portman wanted
the orchestra -- a chamber ensemble of 26 players -- to carry the drama.
Unfortunately, her tightly restrained style and her lack of experience
in writing strongly profiled concert music led to insipid Hollywood filler.
In general, the opera score needed a larger palette of harmonies. It's
hard to make points during an hour and 45 minutes of music when the harmonic
language is not much more complicated than that of simple pop music. Augmented
triads can shock only so many times!
Under the guidance of HGO music director Patrick Summers, the performances
were excellent top to bottom.
The tall, strapping New Zealand-born baritone Teddy Tahu Rhodes gave a
vocally rich and emotionally sympathetic portrayal of the Pilot, the man
who has to deal with the unexpected and upending utterances of the child.
Minnesota boy soprano Nathaniel Irvin, who was understandably miked for
the show, was an utter professional in the demanding staging, which even
had him flying about while singing.
Eight present and past members of the Houston Opera Studio sparkled in
solo and ensemble roles. Tenor Jon Kolbet was coolly elegant as the Snake,
who promises to help the Little Prince find his way back home. Mezzo-soprano
Marie Lenormand was seductively gentle as the Fox.
Equally impressive was the singing of the Children's Chorus prepared by
Karen Reeves and the playing of the HGO Orchestra.
Opera: The Little Prince
By Stacey Kors
Published: June 2 2003 18:38 | Last Updated: June 2 2003 18:38
is always difficult to satisfy audience expectations when adapting a beloved
work of literature for the stage, especially the musical stage, but Antoine
de Saint-Exuperys The Little Prince presents more formidable challenges
than most. This simple but profound tale of a young boy who learns whats
truly important in life is an adult morality play couched in a childrens
fairytale, containing more philosophy than plot. Further complicating
matters are Saint-Exuperys illustrations, which are so recognisable
that they appear on everything from postcards to coffee mugs.
Its therefore a testament to the creative team behind Houston Grand
Operas world premiere of The Little Prince that, despite these obstacles,
they were able to craft an enchanting opera that is both faithful to the
book and satisfying to child and adult alike. An intimate chamber work,
The Little Prince is the first opera by Oscar-winning film composer Rachel
Portman. Through a moving, melodic score, Portman portrays Saint-Exuperys
characters with a delicate combination of humour and poignancy. Admittedly
her music is rarely harmonically complex, and is sometimes even prosaic;
but this somehow pairs well with Saint-Exuperys earnest fable.
British playwright Nicholas Wrights libretto is a respectful treatment
of the original text, which cuts back on the philosophical discussion
and focuses more upon the characters that the young Prince meets in his
travels. Wrights addition of a "Greek chorus" of children
lends cohesiveness to these vignettes without compromising the storyline.
Although most of The Little Princes drama is of an internal nature,
director Francesca Zambello presents a captivating staging that emphasizes
Portmans musical characterisations. These are furthered by the creative
and colourful sets and costumes of the late Maria Bjørnson, who
died while working on the opera. From the bouncing Baobob trees to the
Little Prince taking flight on a kite of origami cranes, Bjørnsons
design team does a marvelous job of realising her vision, which pays loving
homage to Saint-Exuperys illustrations.
It took the HGO some time to find their Prince; but boy soprano Nathaniel
Irvin was worth the wait. With his light voice, pale complexion, and faraway
gaze, Irvin conveyed just the right amount of otherworldliness for the
mysterious and pensive young prince, who wonders why grown-ups stray so
far from the heart. In his HGO debut, New Zealander Teddy Tahu Rhodes
gave an affecting performance as The Pilot whom the Prince befriends,
his bold, lustrous baritone and rugged good looks a striking contrast
to the Princes fragile waifishness. All of the operas secondary
characters were well performed, the standout being French mezzo-soprano
Marie Lenormand as The Fox. Music Director Patrick Summers led the chamber-sized
orchestra in a tight, well-executed performance. In some ways it would
be easy for a "serious" classical music critic to dismiss The
Little Prince, to accuse it of being a sappy, small-scale musical with
a soundtrack-style score that isnt important enough to stand on
its own. To do so, however, would be to sadly miss the point of this touching
work altogetherleaving one no better off than those other silly grown-ups
the Little Prince fails to understand.
Prince' production gets royal treatment
By T.J. MedrekBos
Thursday, February 17, 2005, Boston Herald
forgot to tell Boston Lyric Opera, the Wang Center and the opera companies
around the country who co-produced ``The Little Prince'' the do's and
don'ts of creating a new opera. How else to explain the joyous effect
it made at its East Coast premiere at the Shubert Theatre last night?
It was obvious that nobody told Oscar-winning composer (for ``Emma'')
Rachel Portman that music in a new opera should be as dull and ``smart''-sounding
as possible. Instead of showing off everything she learned in composing
school, Portman created a heartfelt musical score that heightens the action,
nicely delineates the various characters, offers singers opportunities
to shine and, since its premiere in Houston in 2003, has been delighting
And nobody told director Francesca Zambello that a new opera should never
make an emotional connection with an audience. Indeed her staging (realized
here mostly by assistant director/choreographer Denni Sayers) combined
perfectly with Portman's music to convey the charm, humor and depth of
the classic story by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, finely adapted by playwright
That story concerns a Pilot (baritone Keith Phares, dashing in both voice
and looks) who crash-lands in the Sahara Desert. There he's confronted
by hot sun, little water - and a small boy with a shock of unruly, wheat-colored
hair: the Little Prince (boy soprano and remarkable actor Jeffrey Walter).
Both Pilot and Prince - an extra-terrestrial in search of protection for
his vain but beautiful Rose (charming soprano Lauri Choi Stuart) back
home - are on journeys of discovery concerning the nature of existence
and the meaning of love. Yes, it sounds pretentious, but it's not, as
generations of school children have discovered. It's the grown-ups who,
the Little Prince would say, just don't get it.
On his journey from Asteroid B-612, the Little Prince encounters a host
of mostly comic characters who strut their stuff vaudeville-style and
are much helped by the ingenious unit set and fanciful costumes by the
celebrated designer of ``Phantom of the Opera,'' Maria Bjornson, in one
of her last efforts before her death.
Certainly it's been a long time since I've seen anything as outrageously
funny (and inspired) as singers David M. Cushing, Darren T. Anderson,
Christopher Hutton and David Kravitz costumed as a quartet of the Little
Prince's dreaded baobab trees. They looked like hybrids of asparagus and
broccoli, something that vegetable-shy kids might have nightmares about:
Others in the uniformly excellent cast included Claudia Huckle, Joshua
Kohl and Patrice Tiedemann. The children's chorus, directed by Johanna
Hill Simpson, was terrific. And no small credit for last night's success
must go to conductor Stephen Lord, the Lyric's music director, who led
this music as if he believed in every note. Certainly he convinced us
to do just that.
Boston Lyric Opera's ``The Little Prince,'' conducted by Stephen Lord,
at the Shubert Theatre runs through Feb. 27