PHS Choir and Orchestra Collaborate in Preparation for an Unforgettable Opera

October, 2023
Ruhee Hegde

From Unicef Benefits to Singalongs in town, the PHS Choir and Orchestra departments each have their own ways of expressing the unique elements of music. However, this year was the first year in which they performed an opera, an adaptation of “The Little Prince,” on October 27 and 28. This transition reflected an unforgettable change in the repertoire offered at PHS, influencing performances for years to come. Elliott Becker Peeler ’24, Edward Cao ’24, Reva Doshi ’24, and Syra Bhatt ’25 worked hard in preparation for their lead roles in the performance, especially as they transitioned into the idea of singing as characters.

“It was definitely an ambitious choice by Ms. Pelletier and Mr. Metallo to have the opera be the first thing we do this year, but the process has been really great and it’s been really fun for everyone to get into the idea of singing as characters rather than just as ourselves. Playing the rose is super fun because I get to work with the whole choice ensemble along with the leads,” said Noa Zacks ’25, one of the soloists for the opera in PHS Choir.

“The Little Prince,” jointly composed by English dramatists Rachel Portman and Nicholas Wright, is based on the 1943 book of the same name written by French author Antoine de Saint-Exupery. The novel tells the story of a stranded pilot who meets and befriends a young alien prince who visits various planets, including Earth. While the pilot works to fix his plane, he listens to the young boy’s tales of his interstellar travels and gets invested in the wonders of the child’s innate curiosity and sincerity. Despite its status as a children’s book, “The Little Prince'' carries valuable lessons that prove to be universal through its multiple translations and versions into modern multimedia.

Robert Loughran, director of the orchestral program at PHS, explained the inspiration behind their decision to choose “The Little Prince” for this year’s show, as well as the motivation behind their actions.

“This production, unlike pieces in the past, has especially proven to only be truly expressed through the heart, and we tend to incorporate this aspect in the ways we transform the piece from paper into the big stage. As a fellow choir director, Mr. Metallo and I were going through our array of options for the upcoming opera when one quote stood out to me in particular: ‘What is essential is invisible to the eye.’ This metaphor really encompasses our mantra as a collective: To capture all the elements and make them shine,” Loughran said.

One of the most difficult aspects of being a member of PHS Orchestra is learning how to strategically align one’s part to fit with the dramatic melodies of the choir, especially when players were tasked with learning the entire opera in only a couple of weeks. Figuring out the correct volume and tune to play one’s instrument may be an obvious aspect of any orchestra, but it is one of the most thought-out parts.

“Mr. Loughran often tells us to play a lot quieter so that the vocals can really shine through. The orchestra is more of an emotional backdrop to the powerful singing,” said violinist Sung Jun Jo ’24.

The motto “With practice comes progress” can be used to describe the atmosphere of the orchestra room: with every repetition of each musical number, the pieces get one step closer to perfection.

“For me, I find enjoyment in hearing all the different parts of a piece come together. It truly makes you understand and feel the music. It is always difficult to start learning new pieces for the musical and other combined performances; however, we practice it so often that it practically becomes second nature to play it,” said PHSO cellist Vivian Lee ’26.

The lush music and captivating vocals do not come without training, so students in choir have been exploring their ranges throughout the opera piece, which is something new for most people this year.

“Because I am not familiar with this genre of music, it was a bit hard in the beginning to find enjoyment to be honest. The difficult part of this piece is remembering the lyrics and reaching the super high notes of Soprano 1,” said PHS Choir member Lisa Jin ’25. A key part in understanding the nature of the piece is through the support students receive from their fellow peers. “The most exciting thing of the opera is performing in a big group of PHS community. Since I was a transfer student sophomore year, joining PHS Choir helped me feel more involved with this school,” Jin said.

This aspect of community is highlighted across both departments, and despite the difficulty in coordinating the different forms of repertoire, students find that it’s all worth the challenge.

“The Little Prince has definitely been a bit of a challenge in terms of learning the music, which has some complicated key signatures and a lot of time signature changes,” said PHSO violinist Sanjana Manghnani ’25. “However, it’s all been really enjoyable to hear how it all comes together when we rehearse with the singers from the choirs.”

One common theme throughout choir and orchestra is the high anticipation for performance day, as for many students this was their first opportunity to display what they’ve been working on in performing arts classes this year.

“My favorite part of performance day is being able to play for a crowd," said Lee. “We can bring the piece to life, and I’m able to bounce off of other people’s energy, either from the orchestra or the crowd.”

Loughran hopes that the new experiences gathered from the opera will end up a success and bring joy to anyone watching their loved ones perform.

“I seriously am so looking forward to opening night, and I wish to see this event become one for the books, and one that will continue to influence crowds in the years to come,” Laughran said.