The Little Prince Online Course by Dr. Carol AndersonPART 1 – The Story of the Opera The Little Prince
by Dr. Carol Anderson
The opera opens with a wistful Prologue in which the Pilot tells of drawing a picture at age 6 of a boa constrictor eating an elephant. He showed the sketch to some grown-ups, who believed it to be a hat; they suggested he apply himself to more practical subjects. Heedless of their advice, he chose to be a pilot so he could spend his time among the stars.
A chorus of stars appears and describes their view of the Earth spinning far below. As they focus on the African desert, the stars witness a dangerous sandstorm that causes the Pilot to crash his mail plane. The Pilot assesses the seriousness of his situation, stranded a thousand miles from civilization with water enough for only eight days. Out of nowhere, a boy appears and asks the Pilot to draw him a sheep. The Pilot makes several attempts before creating a drawing that satisfies the child. The Pilot explains what he does in an aria, “Every other week, I fly from France.” He describes the monotony of life on the ground in comparison to the joy and exultation he feels when he is flying his plane.
The Pilot learns about this strange child, the Little Prince, through bits and pieces of conversation over the next days. The Prince loves to watch sunsets, and comes from a tiny planet, Asteroid B-612, where once he watched the sunset 44 times. B-612 had 3 tiny volcanoes on which the Prince would brew coffee each morning. Even his tiny and lovely planet had a sinister side, as evil baobab trees would try to sprout before the Prince could uproot them.
The Pilot is attempting to fix his plane while the Prince pesters him with questions. When he tries to send the Prince away, the Prince accuses the Pilot of being just like every other grown-up, preoccupied with the minutiae of life. The Prince sings of a beloved Rose that he has left behind on his planet. His Rose is delicate and weak, not understanding the dangers of the world around. We meet the Rose in a flashback to the Prince’s journey to earth. She is vain and silly, yet the Prince loves her all the same. The Rose asks the Prince to travel to other worlds to learn and grow in wisdom, then to return home to her.
A flock of birds appears and transports the Prince to a series of planets inhabited by interesting characters. First he travels to the planet of a King seated on a majestic throne. The King says that all the world is subject to his will, but he only ever issues commands that are certain to come true no matter whether he utters them or not.
Next, the birds bring the Prince to the planet of the Vain Man, who is desperate for adoration and applause. Then he meets the Drunkard, who drinks to forget that he is ashamed of drinking. The paradoxical encounters continue on the next planet, where the Businessman is frantically counting the stars and can’t stop to chat with anyone. He believes every time he catalogues a star, that star becomes his property. The Prince points out that on his planet, he is useful to the volcanoes and his Rose, but that the stars neither know nor care about the Businessman. These visits prove to the Prince that grown-ups are quite strange, and are oblivious to the beauty of the life that surrounds them.
At last the Prince comes to a tiny planet that only has room for one man and a lamppost. The Lamplighter has orders to light and douse the lamps in coordination with the rotation of his planet. As the planet’s rotation has sped up every year, the Lamplighter now has no chance to rest between the executions of his duty. Though the Prince is pleased at the prospect of so many sunsets to watch, he realizes there is not enough room for both him and the Lamplighter on this planet, and asks where he should go next. The Lamplighter suggests the planet Earth, and a multitude of Lamplighters from all around the Earth appear. Upon seeing this celebration of light, the Prince determines to visit Earth.
The Pilot tells of the Prince’s arrival on Earth approximately a year before the Pilot’s plane crash. The birds deposit the Prince in the middle of a desert, and he is perplexed to see that Earth is apparently devoid of life. He thinks he may have missed his destination, until a Snake appears and explains that he just happens to have landed in an uninhabited region of planet Earth. The Snake promises that he can send the Prince back to his planet when the Prince is ready.
The Prince walks on through rough terrain until he comes upon a garden full of roses. He is immediately puzzled because he thought his Rose was unique, but now he fears she is just one of a bouquet of vain and weak roses. He questions the meaning of his life and his devotion to his Rose.
Hunters appear, chasing a Fox into hiding. After they have passed, the Fox peeps out and greets the Prince. The Prince begs the Fox to stay and play, but the Fox says she can’t because she isn’t a tame fox. If the Prince tamed her, they would be forever linked, and then they could be friends. The Fox shares further wisdom with the Prince, encouraging him to see with his heart rather than his eyes. “Anything essential is invisible to the eyes.” She also tells him that his Rose is special solely because he has cared for her and loves her.
After hearing of the Prince’s travels for eight days, the Pilot is brought back to their present-day predicament, realizing that he and his young companion are in danger of dying of thirst. They set out to find a source of water, with the Pilot carrying the boy when he becomes too weak to walk. They find a well with a rope, a pail, and a pulley. The water begins to sing wordlessly as the Pilot draws a pail of water for the Prince to drink.
The Prince, now revived, reminds the Pilot that almost a year has passed since the Prince landed on Earth, and it’s time for him to return from whence he came. The Pilot is fearful of what this may mean for his future, as well as the Prince’s. He remembers the words of the Fox, that once you have been tamed, tears are likely to follow.
The Snake returns to send the Prince home, but the Prince asks for a delay until the evening, when his home star will be high above him. The Pilot appears and chases the Snake away, but the reprieve is to be brief. The Prince promises that, though he must leave, the Pilot will always hear his laughter in the bell-like joy of the stars. The Snake strikes and the Prince disappears, leaving the Pilot alone in the lovely but lonely desert. He asks the audience to keep a lookout for the child with golden hair, so that he will know when the Prince returns, and they all may be consoled.
Dr. Carol Anderson is the Principal Coach for Utah Symphony | Utah Opera.