Houston Grand Opera’s The Little Prince, based on the children’s story by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry is a fantastic introduction to opera for children. The whimsical stage design, beautifully crafted costumes and commanding performances will keep your little ones glued to their seats. It is rare to find an opera where children take the center stage, but Andy Jones and Cohle Smith, both Houston natives do just that and are supported by a cast of outstanding Houston Grand Opera adult and children performers. Although the story may be for children, adults will be touched by the performance, as well. The Little Prince will run at the Wortham Theater Center until December 20th.
Joshua Hopkins sings the role of The Pilot and leads the audience through nearly each scene with his rich baritone voice. Hopkins is a Houston Grand Opera Studio alumnus and although he travels quite a bit, he has chosen Houston as his “home base.” We were lucky enough to be able to talk with Hopkins about his views on The Little Prince and opera.
What can audiences look forward to in The Little Prince?
The opera of The Little Prince is the children’s storybook that comes to life on stage and is scored with Rachel Portman’s beautiful, tuneful music. It appeals to all ages and is bound to touch the hearts of each person in the audience. This colorful production is designed directly from Saint-Exupéry’s illustrations, so fans of the book will revel in the authenticity of the author’s original vision. The constant contrast between a grown-up perspective and a child-like enlightened one helps to remind us what is truly important in life, especially during the holiday season, teaching us: “Eyes are blind; look only with the heart.”
What is your favorite scene of The Little Prince?
I have 2 favorites: one in which my character (the Pilot) is involved and one which I love watching from the wings. I am deeply emotionally connected to the very last scene I share with the Little Prince, when he is saying his final goodbye to me and returning to his star. Rachel Portman got the music just right in this scene to convey the Pilot’s desperation and sense of loss he suddenly realizes he feels once the Prince declares he must go. My other favorite scene is when the Little Prince comes across the Fox, who teaches him most of the important lessons in the story. The particular text that speaks to me and brings tears to my eyes each night in the wings is this: “People have no time to learn; they buy things ready-made in shops and there it ends. But since there are no shops where friends are sold, they have no friends.”
Most people have a cliché in mind when they think of an opera singer – what would you like people to know that would change their perception?
Opera singers come in all shapes and sizes, so the cliché image of a large woman screaming her face off while wearing a horned helmet is WAY too stereotypical. Think of opera singers more as professional athletes…for years we train our bodies in vocal technique coordination and our minds in strengthening our wills to allow us to be vulnerable in front of thousands of people, night after night. The majority of us are just down-to-earth, hardworking professionals with open minds and hearty senses of humor. Traveling on a regular basis changes our outlook on life and the world around us. We experience the highs of tumultuous applause at the end of an aria and face the lows of bitter rejection so much in this roller coaster of a career that it’s impossible to get through it without a thick skin, aka “mental toughness.”
What piece of advice do you have for aspiring singers?
If you have the talent and want to make a long career for yourself, work your butt off. Even when you think you’ve made it, there is always another level of artistry to which you can aspire. Even after 10 seasons of rewarding work as a professional, I still take voice lessons regularly to improve my craft and reach my next level of ability. Never rest on your laurels, because that’s when an artist loses the capacity for greatness.
Of all the places you’ve traveled during your career which is your favorite and why?
I may have chosen Houston as my home base, a city I have grown to love, but I have a real soft spot in my heart for Santa Fe, NM. Each summer, Santa Fe holds a world-renowned opera festival and I have had the extreme privilege to sing a variety of roles with the company in 4 summers over the course of my career. I’m actually headed back there in 2016 to sing the role of Olivier in a new production of R. Strauss’s Capriccio. Besides escaping the Houston humidity for fresh mountain air, Santa Fe has a distinct creative energy, a relaxed vibe and the most amazing sunsets and cloud formations imaginable. Looking up at the sky in Santa Fe every day during the summer always inspires me!