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Article Published: 01 Jan 2020

The Little Prince on the Border

Fantasy abounds in The Little Prince. But a production concept now on display at the National Opera Center is grounded in a harsh reality, using the Rachel Portman/ Nicholas Wright opera to examine the experience of undocumented immigrants crossing into the United States.

Set design for The Little Prince
Set design for The Little Prince

Director Noam Shapiro and his collabo­rators — Santiago Orjuela-Laverde (scenic design), Tamrin Goldberg (choreography), Haydee Zelideth (costume design), Reza Behjat (lighting design) and Yana Birÿkova (projection design) — have recast the story as a tale that an immigrant father tells at the southern border to calm his children. This transforms their ordeal into a kind of magi­cal escape, turning the smugglers, officers and aid workers that they encounter into mythical beings. The set is a white box with three portholes, representing a prisonlike detention center. As the story develops, the walls come alive with lighting and projec­tion displays, depicting the Prince’s fanciful visions, and making the setting a place of both imprisonment and imagination.

Shapiro argues that the innova­tive concept stays true to the opera’s source material, Antoine de Saint-Ex­upéry’s novel. “Exupéry himself was in exile,” he says. “Embedded within his story is the experience of being lost in a world you do not recognize. It’s about people who are searching for a safer home.”

The Little Prince crew is among the four finalist teams for the 2019 Robert L.B. Tobin Director-Designer Showcase. This biennial OPERA America program awards each team $2,000 and gives the artists the opportunity to showcase their designs at both the Na­tional Opera Center and the Opera Confer­ence, where they are introduced to industry leaders from around the country.

The Director-Designer Showcase is supported by the Tobin Theatre Arts Fund.

This article was published in the Winter 2020 issue of Opera America Magazine.