Philip Glass: The Perfect Americanby Dennis Russell Davies
The Philip Glass opera "The Perfect American," premiered in Spain in 2013 (the performance reproduced here), is based on a 2001 German novel by Peter Stephan Jungk that traffics in the various dark rumors that swirled around Walt Disney in the years just before and after his death. Disney, it is suggested, was racist, anti-Semitic, and bent on cheating death itself through cryogenics. There was a bit of smoke surrounding each of these allegations, but basically no fire, and listeners may be troubled by the way the story plays fast and loose with historical fact (cryogenics was little known in the mid-1960s, for example, and it is unlikely that Disney had even heard of it). With this caveat out of the way, however, this is Glass' most dramatically effective opera in some time. The opera consists of a prologue and 12 scenes, seven in the first act and five in the second. The plot recounts supposed episodes from the end of Disney's life, as he contemplates his impending death, his legacy, the culture around him, and his relationship with a fired subordinate and other individuals both real and imagined. Sample Act I, Scene 2 (CD one, track three), where Disney announces his intention to be cryogenically frozen. With the libretto by Rudolph Wurlitzer contributing short, sharp-profiled speeches, the scene is variegated and builds convincingly to a climax, with Glass' trademark propulsive rhythms serving to introduce subsections and mark dramatic plateaus. English bass-baritone Christopher Purves as Walt Disney makes the enclosed libretto largely superfluous, and he fully inhabits the character of the contradictory figure who claims (here, at least) that more children "know Mickey than Christ." The rest of the cast is uniformly strong, and regular Glass collaborator Dennis Russell Davies keeps the Chorus and Orchestra of Teatro Real Madrid moving at an infectious clip. This is a remarkable tribute to a composer who has achieved half a century of success through a relentless desire to keep experimenting.
- Release Date:
- Orange Mountain
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