If a story catches a person at the right time, it can stick with them for their whole lives. Since its publication in 1943, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s “The Little Prince” has been one of those stories.
The story of a stranded pilot who lands on Earth and must navigate his way through a strange place while meeting a cast of unique characters has been read by parents and children alike for 80 years. In 2003, the story was transformed into an opera by Rachel Portman, and now it’s coming to the University of Denver, courtesy of the Lamont School of Music and Lamont Opera Theatre.
“This will be the first time that Lamont has done an opera by a living, female composer,” said Matthew Plenk, artistic director of the production. “Most opera companies are doing at least one production a season that isn’t part of the western canon so the fact that the composer is both living and female is significant.”
“The Little Prince” will make its Colorado debut at the Newman Center for the Performing Arts’ Gates Concert Hall, 2344 E. Iliff Ave. in Denver, from April 20 through April 23.
According to provided information, the opera was first performed at the Houston Grand Opera. For the Denver performances, Plenk and music director and conductor Sahar Nouri worked with the Utah Symphony and Utah Opera to bring scenery and costumes from Utah to Colorado.
Not only is staging the show a chance to break some new ground, it provides the all-important opportunity for students to get stage — and behind-the-scenes — experience.
“It’s very exciting to be part of a work that hasn’t been done here before,” said Megan Pryor, a first year master’s degree student who is Plenk’s assistant director and a member of the show’s chorus. “I’ve done some assistant directing in high school, but never delved into opera directing until now. It’s something I’ve been very interested in.”
The goal of any production is to entertain audiences, but Plenk emphasized the importance of students learning that the talents and skills they have can be used beyond performing.
“The number of professional singers is close to that of professional athletes, so having a wide range of experience offers more job opportunities,” he said. “This is a great way to demonstrate how very, very important everyone is in telling these stories.”
That same sense of discovery that students have while working on the show will hopefully translate into an appreciation for opera, an artform that goes back more than 400 years and still has the power to connect with audiences.
“This show has a lot of the exciting elements of musical theater while having the difficult classical singing aspect that opera brings, so it’s a great piece for first-timers,” Pryor said. “I think audiences will be surprised by the intensity of opera and how visceral the experience is. The drama is so much more heightened because everyone on stage is giving it their all vocally.”
And while the stereotype of opera stories are huge and sweeping — to match the music — often with a heartbreaking conclusion, “The Little Prince’s” power comes in its directness.
“The show has serious messages, but they’re expressed through the eyes of children,” Plenk said. “I hope people are inspired to be better humans, because, I really believe art and opera can be used to remind people how to be better to each other.”