Suppose the little person in your life demanded three reasons why he or she should go with you to Washington, DC's Kennedy Center to see Washington National Opera's The Little Prince. You could say the star of the show is a little boy who comes from another planet to help an airplane pilot who crashes in the Sahara Desert (on December 19, 2014, the Dresser saw boy soprano Henry Wager perform fluidly in this demanding role), the red fox has her own trapdoors in the stage floor (Aleksandra Romano knew how to make the fox head worn on top of her head communicate), and the walking baobab trees had fingery roots and branches.
Suppose the teenager in your life demanded three reasons why he or she should go with you to see composer Rachel Portman and librettist Nicholas Wright's interpretation of that French kid's book by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. You could say the words are in English, the snake looks and acts like a vampire with an absurdly long tail (tenor John Kapusta gives a standout performance), and the fox hunters look like blimps who have no idea how to use their rifles. This should please the vegans and vegetarians.
Suppose the man of the family be he husband, uncle, or grandpa says, what's in this for me? You could say The Rose (soprano Jacqueline Echols) and her sisters are fascinatingly sexy. While they all wear green tights with large thorns protruding, their silky petals open and close into a luscious ruby bud. Echols' vocal line is both challenging and engaging in the way any siren would maneuver and she delivers with appropriate passion.
Suppose mother, sister, aunt--the ones who love the sophistication of music theater and opera just want a profile. You could say the baritone role of The Pilot (the Dresser heard Christian Bowers) adds a dimension of earthy warmth against the angelic voice of The Little Prince. Portman's pretty music (which is between music theater and opera) is melancholic and glimmering in a celestial way. There's quite a bit of harp and bell accents. You could also say that Washington National Opera Children's Chorus is an adorable community of talented youth who get to wear their pajamas while they parade through the audience onto the stage. Kudos to conductor Nicole Paiement for keeping all the musicians and singers nimbly together.
Director Francesca Zambello has made sure this is family opera at its best because everyone will find something to marvel at or admire. It is a two-hour performance with one twenty-minute break. While the Dresser adores Saint-Exupéry's story, she feels the opera could stand to be a good twenty-minutes shorter without losing its good energy. This is WNO's third season of presenting family opera and by far, The Little Prince is the best for music, costumes, vocal variety and performance, and direction. In 2003, Zambello premiered this work, which was commissioned by Houston Grand Opera. Therefore, the WNO sellout for the five performances in the Terrace Theater is not surprising but certainly a disappointment for those too late to get tickets.
The Little Prince is full of wise thoughts, so the Dresser will conclude with several quotes:
"Words are the source of misunderstandings."
"It is lonely when you're among people, too," said the snake.
"It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.
Grown-ups never understand anything by themselves, and it is tiresome for children to be always and forever explaining things to them.
Photos: Scott Suchman