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Rachel Portman

Publisher: Chester Music

The Little Prince (2003)
Text Writer
Nicholas Wright
St. Rose Music Publishing
Opera and Music Theatre
Sub Category
Grand Opera
Year Composed
1 Hour 35 Minutes
20 children
Solo Instrument(s)
Boy Soprano, 2 Baritones, Bass, Mezzo-Soprano, 2 Sopranos, 2 Tenors
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Programme Note
Rachel Portman The Little Prince (2003)
Preview the vocal score below:

SYNOPSIS by Julie Nelson

A pilot recounts a significant event from his childhood memories: a vision he once had of a boa constrictor consuming an elephant. In awe and wonder at the marvels of nature, he had drawn the episode in a sketch. On showing it, he is told to put away the drawing – considered a fanciful, frivolous excess by the short- sighted adults in his life – and concentrate his mind on grammar and history. This, he is told, is the only route to a successful life. At the end of the prologue, we find out that he has become a Pilot – his vocation, he assures us – and that his home is amongst the sky and stars.

The first act opens to a chorus of Stars singing their purposes and positions to each other across the night sky, when the Desert Stars announce the advent of a powerful sandstorm sweeping across their landscape, felling our Pilot and his craft. In the morning, the Pilot wakes and turns to see The Little Prince appear beside him. Enigmatically, the Little Prince asks the Pilot to draw a sketch of a sheep for him and asks about the aeroplane and what it is for.

The Pilot paints a picture of his life for The Little Prince, describing it as a balance between exhilaration and boredom. He refuses the boy’s repeated request for a drawing of a sheep, asserting – like an echo of the grown-ups before - that he ‘can’t draw’. Finally persuaded by the Prince, he draws a variety of sheep until, at last, he draws a crate and tells the Prince that a sheep lies within it. The Prince gratefully accepts the sketch and begins to tell the Pilot his story.

The Little Prince has come from a tiny planet named Asteroid B-162 which is at risk of colonisation by the mighty Baobab trees. But it isn’t just the planet itself that the Little Prince is concerned by: he is the protector of the beautiful, vulnerable, proud flower, the Rose. The Rose, he tells the Pilot, is alone, unprotected and unaware of the dangers surrounding her. Losing her to predators would mean the end of the Sun and the stars for The Prince. Realising how unsympathetic he has been to the plight of the Prince, the Pilot decides to sketch a muzzle for the sheep to wear to protect the Rose from being eaten.

We find ourselves transported back in time and space to the Prince’s planet. The Rose, still inside her bud, is being observed tenderly by the Little Prince, as she appears to him for the first time. The Prince is smitten, ignorant of any flaws or faults in the object of his adoration. She proudly boasts of her independence and strength but reveals her greatest fear: the cold. The Prince hurries to find a dome to place over her but is met with a sharp reproach. Stifling her spirit and covering her beauty is not a solution, she tells him. He must venture into the planets around him to find a cure.

Their love having been mutually declared, The Little Prince is carried away by a flock of cranes to an array of planets where he discovers the disquieting world of adults: the deliberate deceptions of a King, the narcissism of ‘Vain Man’, the woes of the victim of addiction, the ignorant businessman who believes everything can be counted and owned. He even travels to the world of the poor Lamplighter where the world spins ever-faster and allows him no rest or leisure. Finally, the Little Prince arrives on the Geographer’s planet, where he is advised to go to Earth in search of his answer. As the Prince reflects on the plight of his Rose, an international chorus of Lamplighters lift their voices and sing of the gift of happiness they give to the world.

It is the year before the Pilot’s crash. The Little Prince has landed on Earth and is engaged in conversation by the Snake who purports to be the answer to the Prince’s worries. The persuasive Snake declares that he can return the Prince to his planet; the place he loves the most. Continuing his journey, the Prince discovers a garden thronging with beautiful roses, at once exposing the naiveté of his own belief that Rose was unique. The Prince cries, questioning his own worth and that of his love, Rose, until he hears the rallying cry of a fox hunt.

The Prince encounters the Fox who has been hiding from the hunt. Their meeting is seminal to the Prince’s understanding of the value of friendship, love and commitment. Fox teaches the Little Prince that friendship is about true connection and explains that humans seem now only to be interested in instant, investment-free relationships. That, he says, is why they have no friends. Rose, he explains, may not be unique but she will always be the Prince’s love because of the commitment he has shown to her. They both carry that light for each other now.

Once again, we find ourselves in the desert with the Pilot and the Prince but now in the present, eight days after their first meeting. Their water supply has almost run out and, as the Pilot bears the Little Prince across the desert to find a new source, the Prince reminds the Pilot that in his far-off planet there is his Rose, whose love sustains him and feeds the love inside him.

Having found a well and refreshed themselves, the Pilot and The Prince find themselves united in their belief that one should ‘look only with the heart’ and not the eyes. A change in tone begins as the Prince tells the Pilot that he should return to his aircraft and return for him the next night. Fearfully, the pilot leaves. The next evening, he finds The Little Prince and Snake discussing the Prince’s departure from 'Earth. A tremendous sadness overtakes the Pilot as he realises that he is about to lose his friend – the friend he has cared for and connected with. As they embrace for the last time and the stars serenade the Prince, he takes the drawings sketched for him by the Pilot and disappears in a flash at the command of Snake.

Alone. Bereft. Watchful. The Pilot addresses the audience, asking us to watch for the return of the golden-haired child and inform him of it. The chorus reminds us that the Pilot will heal. He has learnt a truth that is beyond price: ‘anything essential is invisible to the eye.’

  • Soloist(s)
    Joseph McManners / Lesley Garrett / Aled Jones / Willard White
  • Music Sales Group:
  • 20 JUN 2019
    Faneuil Hall, Boston, MA
    NEMPAC Opera Project
    Tiffany Chang, conductor

    Other Dates:
    22 June - Faneuil Hall, Boston, MA

To create an opera based on a work so universally cherished as Antoine de Sant-Exupery's 'The Little Prince' is an act of bold confidence. As evidenced by Sony Classical's release in DVD and CD formats of this children's opera by composer Rachel Portman and librettist Nicholas Wright, this confidence was well placed. For Portman, composing a children's opera was the fulfillment of a dream. With 'The Little Prince' she joins the limited ranks of artists such as Sergei Prokofiev, Walt Disney, Maurice Sendak and Saint-Exupery himself, whose creations ostensibly directed at children resonate with adults as well. Most noted as a film composer (thrise nominated for an Oscar and the recipient of one in 1996 for Emma), Portman successfully spreads her creative wings in a very different direction. Her score is quite charming, accessible and sweet, yet neither pandering nor cloying, ....This is a work that merits unqualified praise. It enhances our understanding of The Little Prince, rather than altering or diminishing it. Whether you prefer to watch the BBC's film of the opera or listen to it on CD and imagine your own, neither version will disappoint you.
Arlo McKinnon, Opera News,01/08/2005
Somebody 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. ...[Zambello's] 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.
T.J. MedrekBos , Boston Herald,17/02/2005
"If you and your children missed Francesca Zambello’s enchanting film of Rachel Portman’s opera The Little Prince—premiered on BBC 2 last night—I doubt you will have more than 54 weeks to wait for a repeat broadcast. Like Menotti’s Amahl and the Night Visitors, which The Little Prince recalls in even measure with Britten’s Ceremony of Carols, Portman’s opera has the hallmark of an instant Christmas classic. With delicious designs from the late Maria Bjornson—the prettiest I’ve seen since Bergman’s film of Die Zauberflote—and 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 children’s operas. Delightful."
Anna Picard, The Independent,28/11/2004
Deftly handled, The Little Prince makes a lovely opera. It might do well on Broadway. ...[the music] is unfailingly graceful and civil, and acutely responsive to the mood of the stage. Like opera at its 16th – century beginnings, Ms. Portman’s 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.
Bernard Holland , The New York Times,05/06/2003
Through a moving, melodic score, Portman portrays Saint-Exupery’s 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 adult alike.
Stacey Kors , Financial Times,02/06/2003
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 operatic success. 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... Portman’s The Little Prince was unfailingly attractive--simple, communicative, touching.
Charles Ward , Houston Chronicle,01/06/2003
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