Utah Opera’s “Little Prince” soars to magical heights once again

Mon Jan 22, 2024 at 1:37 pm
Sarah Scofield as the Fox and Miles Keeton in the title role of Utah Opera’s The Little Prince. Photo: Dana Sohm

It is debatable whether Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s beloved fable The Little Prince is a children’s book. But it was fitting that children were out in full force Saturday night when Utah Opera opened its revival of Rachel Portman and Nicholas Wright’s opera based on the novella. The opera is back by popular demand only five years after its Salt Lake City debut, and once again it is the youngest cast members who elevate this production to magical heights.

The Madeleine Choir School is the company’s go-to whenever an opera calls for children, and while Melanie Malinka always prepares her choristers well, they have outdone themselves this time. Besides harmonizing, projecting and enunciating like professionals, these young performers bring energy and joy to the stage, particularly in the soaring finale.

Seventh-grader Miles Keeton gives a note-perfect performance in the title role, his voice even and smooth throughout its range. The young actor brought a heart-tugging poignancy to his aria explaining his devotion to the Rose and light-hearted boyishness to his frolics with the Fox.

Tara Faircloth’s staging makes the chorus of 24 children integral to the story even when they are not singing. They set the stage for both acts of the opera, quietly filling the handsome library set as audience members find their seats. They created beautiful stage pictures over the course of the evening: surrounding the Little Prince and cheering him on his journey, passing around a streetlamp to depict the rotation of the Lamplighter’s planet, waving the flags of many nations to welcome the prince to Earth.

Baritone Shea Owens leads the adult cast as the Pilot—the narrator of the story and a stand-in for Saint-Exupéry. Owens blends lyricism, strength and a believable warmth toward his mysterious new friend.

The other adult roles amount to short but memorable sketches, all handled deftly by the singers with a little help from Jacob Climer’s whimsically inventive costumes. Christian Sanders is the standout, disappearing into the roles of the Vain Man and the Snake on the strength of his vocal characterizations and physicalization—not to mention his saucy virtuosity on the kazoo.

Excellent performances also come from Sarah Scofield, mischievous but warm as the Fox; Jasmine Rodriguez, vain yet vulnerable as the Rose; Julia Gershkoff, sparkling as the Water; Jeremiah Tyson as the weary Lamplighter and the woeful Drunkard; Tshlidzi Ndou as the officious Businessman; and Kevin Thompson as the cleverer-than-he-seems King. The three women also have infectious fun as a chorus of Roses, as do Sanders, Tyson, Ndou and Thompson as a delightfully villainous gang of Baobabs and a bumbling quartet of Hunters.

Benjamin Manis led the Utah Symphony in a buoyant performance of Portman’s lush, cinematic score, highlighted by well-placed, colorful solos and always in well-judged balance with the singers.

Climer’s dark-paneled library set visually pulls the theater into the story in the opening scenes before the rear wall, dominated by Saint-Exupéry’s paintings, glides away and leaves the ceiling-length shelves to frame the prince’s tale. The designer’s crayon-bright costumes really pop against this simpler, book- and paper-strewn landscape. Kate Casalino’s wig and makeup designs work in harmony with the costumes to illuminate the characters, from the Little Prince’s iconic tousle to the sleek “ears” of the Fox.

The Little Prince runs through January 28. utahopera.org

One Response to “Utah Opera’s “Little Prince” soars to magical heights once again”

  1. Posted Jan 22, 2024 at 4:45 pm by Moselle Eugen

    Benjamin Manis is an excellent conductor. He was the Utah Symphony’s associate conductor for the 2022-2023 season, and previously Resident Conductor at Houston Grand Opera for three seasons. He should be invited back to lead future productions at Utah Opera.

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