Suggested Listening: “The Little Prince” by Rachel Portman

Today’s SUGGESTED LISTENING for the CLASSICAL MUSIC SKEPTIC brings a bit of magic to our Tuesday afternoon.  From composer Rachel Portman and librettist Nicholas Wright, enjoy an excerpt from The Little Prince: A Magical Opera, performed below in a BBC production with Joseph McManners in the title role.

About the Composer:

When Rachel Portman (b. 1960) won the 1996 Academy Award for Best Original Musical or Comedy Score, she was up against a man’s club of formidable nominees: Alan Mencken, Marc Shaiman, Randy Newman… And isn’t the entire world of film scoring truly a man’s club?  Only three women have ever won an Academy Award for Best Score: the incomparable Ms. Portman, as well as lyricist Marilyn Bergman in 1983 and Anne Dudley in 1997.

Portman, born in West Sussex, first became interested in scoring films as a music student at Oxford, where she began composing for student film and theatre productions.  Her earliest work was for BBC television dramas, such as Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit. Since then, she has scored for over 100 film, television, and theatre projects, racking up three Oscar noms and one win; nods from Emmy, Grammy, BAFTA, and Golden Globe; not to mention a freaking OBE appointment in 2010.  Not too shabby.

About the Piece:

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry‘s classic novella has charmed and enchanted readers of all ages since its 1943 publication.  The Little Prince is one of the most translated books in the world (besides, like, the Bible), and various incarnations have brought it to stage, screen, and even ballet.  But among the most delightful adaptations by far is Rachel Portman’s two-act children’s opera, premiered by the Houston Grand Opera in 2003.  Portman’s film background shines through in her sweeping, cinematic score: rich, vibrant strings undulate beneath innocent children’s voices — including McManners‘ angelic boy soprano and a choir of twinkling stars — accompanied by heroic swells of brass and contemplative piano ostinato.

For those unfamiliar with The Little Prince, it tells the story of a pilot who crash lands in the Sahara Desert, where he encounters a young prince who has fallen to Earth from a faraway asteroid.  The tale is a fantastical one, imagined with a child’s ingenuous wit, and Portman’s opera is brought to life by the directorial eye of Francesca Zambello, one of today’s preeminent opera directors (not to mention one of only a few leading women in the field).  Watch the full opera here, and be transported to a realm that is musical, magical, unbelievable, and entirely delightful.

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