“The Little Prince” comes to Buffalo tonight and Saturday evening as part of Opera Sacra’s decades-long commitment to mounting musical stage works with spiritual content.
The Rev. Jacob Ledwon, who founded Opera Sacra back in 1975, has wanted to showcase this piece for a few years now, ever since he became aware of Rachel Porter’s 2003 operatic score and Nicholas Wright’s libretto for “The Little Prince.” In that regard, Ledwon’s patience has been rewarded and merely awaits an audience.
The result, even if it isn’t mounted as spectacularly as the original Houston Grand Opera performance, has more than enough to recommend it. By using slides, video clips and imaginative costuming and staging to surround a well-chosen cast of singers and dancers, this production is one of the more impressive feats in Opera Sacra’s history.
Given that the novella at the core of this opera is one of the most popular books in the world – translated from its original French into more than 200 languages (including Katherine Woods’ classic 1943 text in English) – it should come as no surprise that somebody created an opera with this storyline at its core.
When Wright set the text, he appears to have used a translation by Richard Howard from 2000. Where Woods had the Prince saying one thing (“Children should always show great forbearance towards grown-up people.”), Howard’s version (“Children should be very understanding of grown-ups.”) tweaks the earlier translation a bit, reducing the linguistic rhythms of Woods’ wordplay to something more akin to present-day speech patterns.
In the long run, the changes in how the text unfolds are a minimal distraction, mostly because of Porter’s musical score and this production’s superb realization of it by the 27-piece orchestra and the Buffalo Niagara Youth Chorus Chamber Choir, led by Roland E. Martin. The vocal soloists are all impressive, especially the young Cole Marcotte who plays the Little Prince, Colleen Marcello as the Rose, and Heather Holden as the Fox. The talented James Wright has the linchpin task of singing the Pilot role, basically operating as a narrator, helping to tie the various threads of text into a tapestry.
Wright’s vocals (and those of the other soloists), good as they may be, are often at the mercy of St. Joseph’s University Church’s spacious, high-roofed nave – an impressive architectural feature that provides the venue with lively acoustics that tend to bounce sound around the space … unless there are sufficient warm bodies filling the pews to help mitigate the sonic fog. That said, this production – due to high quality musicianship, elaborate costuming and the clever use of electronics in staging – overcomes such obstacles with surprising ease.
Opera fans and people who revel in the storyline of “The Little Prince” owe it to themselves to fill the pews, help tame the acoustics, and enjoy Opera Sacra’s impressive musical production of a beloved piece of literature.