Opera: Rosabella Gregory / The Haberdasher Prince

KC Lyric Opera
Composed by Rosabella Gregory / Libretto by Dina Gregory
Kelli Van Meter (Querulous String), Benjamin Ruiz (Playful String), José Oliváres (Stately String), Christine Boddicker (Clear String)
Music by newEar Contemporary Chamber Ensemble
Matthew Bennett (Violin), Boris Vayner (Viola), Sascha Groschang (Cello), Kevin Clarke (Percussion), Matteo Generani (Piano), Piotr Wiśniewski (Conductor)
Jerry Jay Cranford (Director), Stephen C. Kemp (Scene Designer), Nancy Robinson (Costume Design)

In this season’s KC Lyric Opera catalog, there was an entry that looked unique and interesting – a youth opera called The Haberdasher Prince. I like the fact that the Lyric puts on special programs for young people and in a setting that is casual and unintimidating.

KC Lyric Opera - The Haberdasher Prince - Youth opera - Cast photo

This light opera was being mounted at the KC Lyric’s Michael and Ginger Frost Production Arts facility located in the Crossroads, a place that is used by the Lyric for alternative programs. Since the production was going to take place on a Saturday morning and it had a duration of only an hour, I thought I might head on down there solo to take it in and have the rest of the weekend in front of me.

But immediately I realized this idea was crazy – why cover a youth opera alone when I have a son that needs desperately to ditch the laptop and the world of gaming for something in the real world? And of course mom can’t be left out. So the three of us trotted off to Saturday at the opera!

KC Lyric Opera - The Haberdasher Prince - Youth opera - Benjamin Ruiz

The plot of The Haberdasher Prince concerns a very musical King Hamluk and his not-very-musical son Prince Panderbash. The king is a fine musician on the “gilrabi” – a mythical instrument most closely resembling a sarod, the 4-stringed instrument which is a staple of classical Indian music. The king assumes that his son has inherited his musical gifts but in fact the prince has a tin ear and drives audiences out of the room whenever he jams out on the thing. Prince Panderdash forges ahead with his lousy gilrabi playing until he meets a seamstress who is the only person to tell him to give it up as a day job because he’s so lousy at it. In the course of their getting acquainted they find they both have a passion for sewing, while she is excellent at playing the gilrabi. And of course it’s also true love. The quartet of characters are all resolved to this switcheroo and the proceedings end on a happy 4-part harmonious note, imparting the moral is that we aren’t always destined to be what we are groomed by social forces to be, which is a nice moral to deliver to the kiddos along with a crash course in opera.

Composer Rosabella Gregory – not a traditional modern classical composer but pop/crossover artist – created the music for this work in collaboration with her twin sister Dina Gregory, author of many children’s titles available in print and audiobook editions, who wrote the book and libretto based on one of her titles in circulation.

In her other incarnations Rosabella Gregory has several releases to her credit, mostly straight singer-songwriter fare built around solo piano and voice. She also has done the music for a recent Broadway musical, My Marcello, so she is no stranger to music written for the stage.

Ms. Gregory is also prolific with writing commercial jingles, which is probably an even better resume for her compositional skills because writing jingles is much more challenging than the process of writing songs from a musican’s own experience. I would reckon that of all the millions of songwriters out there in the world only a relative few have the musical moxie to write successful music for an ad spot. But our composer seems to have facility in this arena as well; the Unilever corporation thought so much of Ms. Gregory’s talents that they gave the nod to this bouncy happy bit of nice for use in a southeast Asian tea promo. High praise indeed to have corporate flacks think your music is so good it might assist in grabbing off some market share for a gringo tea import in a country just across the pond from where they actually grow the stuff.

Her music for The Haberdasher Prince was rich and interesting throughout. There were many instances of telling the story with 4-part harmonies which were very effective. I would describe the music as an evolved pop songwriting type of composition orchestrated for a small chamber ensemble. Which is a good thing; anyone browsing this site knows I’m a big proponent of bringing the music of opera back down to earth by blending the serious music of opera with modern pop concepts.

And Ms. Gregory’s composition works well for the intended purpose of a youth opera without being written down to the level of the audience. The music manages to be sophisticated for adult tastes while melodious and accessible enough for kids – a deft trick to pull off.

KC Lyric Opera - The Haberdasher Prince - Benjamin Ruiz and Kelli Van Meter

All the singers were in fine form, very loud at times owing to the close quarters but it was tolerable. I was particularly fond of the rich voice of the king, José Oliváres. All were well-cast and delivered their parts with great aplomb and commitment despite the humble surroundings.

In the promo trailer for The Haberdasher Prince, music director Piotr Wiśniewski claims that the music is based on Indian scales, but I didn’t pick up on that. Another aspect that I missed is the extra layer of metaphor involving the names of the characters – Querulous String (the queen), Clear String (the seamstress), Playful String (the prince), and Stately String (the king) which somehow have the players representing the four strings of the gilrabi/sarod thing. Might make more sense in the book but it kind of went over my head; possibly I missed something in supertitles (projected on twin monitors that flanked the floor-level action) while I was scribbling notes. The kids might have understood it better than I did.

KC Lyric Opera - The Haberdasher Prince - Youth opera - Christine Boddicker

Though KC Lyric presentations of this more casual type have a workshop vibe to it, The Haberdasher Prince seems to be pretty well formed at this stage. The music was handled capably by the newEar Contemporary Chamber Ensemble who will travel with this work as it is performed in various places in the wider KC area in April.

But I’ve gone on long enough. Who cares what I think. The review that really matters is the one from my teenage son!

Once we were back home I morphed from dad to editor and decreed that his next marathon Roblox session would be postponed until he weighted in about what we had just seen. The bartering wasn’t necessary; he was agreeable to the idea. His take:

The Haberdasher Prince
Review by V.Fairbank

Me and my family went to see The Haberdasher Prince on April 6th, and I felt it was pretty good. The main plot was about this king who had a son, and he wished that the son would inherit his ability to play music. However, as his son grew up, he instead wanted to sew. I felt that since this show was dedicated to a younger audience, it was a really good moral that was displayed (being that you shouldn’t be pressured to choose a career path by a parent.) The actors were good too, they hit all their notes and transitioned into their other characters well.

KC Lyric Opera - The Haberdasher Prince - Youth opera - Cast ensemble