Opera Vista presented the world premiere of SomtowSucharitkul’s The Silent Prince on Friday evening, October 15, at Zilkha Hall in the Hobby Center.
An excited and eager youthful sold out crowd witnessed the world premiere at, unfortunately, its only performance in Houston.
The next performance of The Silent Prince will be in Bangkok, Thailand, in December, where Opera Vista is participating in the annual World Opera Week.
The highly ambitious and spectacularly superb The Silent Prince marks the first full length opera produced by Opera Vista, a 501 (c) 3 non-profit opera company conceived in 2007 to bring forth the performance of new operas written by contemporary composers.
The Silent Prince tells the Buddhist tale of Temiya Jataka, a Buddha who has been reincarnated as a prince.
When forced to choose between committing terrible karmic deeds and disobeying his father, Temiya withdraws from the world into silence.
The royal court tries to draw him back into the world, but a king’s patience can only last so long before he takes justice into his own hands and, because the young prince does not take the course of the king’s choosing, the king banishes his son to the forest, where he will be killed.
It is there in the forest that the silent prince is awakened and revealed as the divine form of the Bodhisattva (the incarnation of Buddha) and is finally recognized by all.
Somtow Sucharitkul’s sumptuous and marvelously lyrical score is enchanting (several traditional Indian instruments are used in the orchestra---tamburas, celeste, harmonium), moving, intriguing, and always retains a deep sense of mystery and spirituality.
His rich and beautiful orchestrations are masterful, meaningful, and mesmerizing.
Conductor Viswa Subbaraman conducts with great fire and enthusiasm yet his large orchestra, composed of twenty-three highly skilled musicians, never overwhelms but strongly accompanies and supports the stunning onstage performances.
The action begins in heaven where Suja, the queen, has heard the cries of the entire creation and of the birth pangs of Chandra Devi on earth.
The king, Shakro, and his queen appeal to the Bodhisattva to return to earth to incarnate (through Chandra).
Ryan West as Prince Temiya
Kelly Waguespack as Maya
Soprano Kelly Waguespack is stunning as Suja, and imbues the Queen of Heaven with the rich, clear, and pure vocal tones worthy of the queen of heaven.
She also superbly sings the role of Maya, the god of illusion, who appears to tempt the young prince.
Baritone Matt Strader powerfully and purposefully sings the role of Shakro Devanam Indra, the King of Heaven, and later appears as the Yama, the god of the underworld, who sternly reminds the young prince that he was once a warrior king.
Timothy Jones as King of Kashi
Shannon Langman as Chandra Devi
Bass-baritone Timothy Jones gives a tour de force performance as the King of Kashi and his strong, clear, and resonant baritone is perfectly realized.
His commanding stage presence as the King is indisputable.
Soprano Shannon Langman is magnificent as Chandra Devi, the Queen of Kashi, and her rich, colorful, and carefully controlled soprano voice is a joy to behold, and particularly touching in a lovely melodically haunting lullaby she sings to her silent son.
Soprano Elizabeth Borik is excellent as Aspara, the Prince’s wet nurse.
Composer Somtow Sucharitkal saves his best surprise for the second act, when the silent prince is awakened to his destiny and begins to sing to the universe.
Sucharitkal brilliantly composes Prince Temiya as a male sopranist, a higher register than we experience from a counter tenor.
Ryan West as Prince Temiya
Shannon Langman as Chandra Devi
Ryan West is remarkable as Prince Temiya and exhibits an other worldly presence from his first moment onstage.
When he finally speaks and begins to sing, The SilentPrince comes alive with the fervor, freshness, passion, and power of fireworks in the night.
West’s vocal expertise as a sopranist is ingenious, intriguing, and intrinsically mystical and spiritual by nature.
Stage director Joe Carl White ingeniously and inventively stages The Silent Prince, using a variety of levels and entrances to create variety, always painting excellent and engaging stage pictures.
Choreography by Rathna Kumar and MaheshMahbubani adds excitement and energy to the production and uses dancers in traditional, colorful Indian costumes from the Anjali Center for the Performing Arts.
A two story traditional set design by Kevin Holdenand Tom Meyer uses Moorish arches and a central moveable staircase, all painted in earthy greens, oranges, tans, golds, browns, and dark blues.
I question whether a traditional set was necessary for this new opera, and, certainly, it will be no easy feat to transport it to Bangkok in December.
I believe a contemporary setting using various levels and shapes of platforms, exquisitely lit and placed, might have greater enhanced and simplified The Silent Prince and turned it into a timeless masterpiece rather than a specific period piece.
Lighting design by the talented David Gipson perfectly captures the deep hues and colors of this colorful Buddhist legend.
Costumes by Prashe are exquisitely detailed, fabulously flowing, and harmoniously colored.
My only wish is that The Silent Prince could have run for several more performances so that more Houston audiences could have experienced its wonder, its awe, and its beauty.
Thai audiences at World Opera Week in Bangkok are in for a divine appointment when they get to experience Opera Vista’s stunning and spectacular production of
Somtow Sucharitkul’s The Silent Prince.
One thing is clear---Opera Vista has a bold and bright future ahead if The Silent Prince is any indication of its strikingly magnificent ability to produce excting new operas.
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