The Perfect American

The Perfect American is the ironic title of Philip Glass’ latest opera which premiered in Madrid last year.  It’s about Walt Disney and set at the end of his life looking back at his life and forward to his death.  It’s a not very flattering portrait.  It depicts Disney as blinkered, racist, virulently anti-Communist and, in fact, only comfortable with a sort of Leave it to Beaver America; though passionate about that.

1.marcellineMusically it sounds pretty much like anything else by Philip Glass.  Expect 105 minutes of fairly unrelieved arpeggiation.  The production though is clever and spectacular.  Phelim McDermott stages on a grand scale with the chorus used mainly to portray the production line nature of Disney productions.  When Disney compares himself to Ford and Edison it’s obvious what this production thinks that means; 99% perspiration, 1% inspiration (actually true for Glass’ music too).  There’s also a very clever lighting plot and intelligent use of video projections.

2.familyI think the cast make as much of this as possible.  There’s a towering performance from Chris Purves as the man himself and some excellent supporting performances.  Donald Kaasch as the downtrodden ex employee Dantine, Janis Kelly as Hazel George and David Pittsinger as Roy Disney are especially good is especially good but no complaints really about anyone which isn’t really a surprise with the likes of Marie McLaughlin and Sarah Tynan playing fairly minor roles.  Props too to the many Spanish singers in the large cast.  Their English diction is excellent as is the chorus’.  Dennis Russell Davies conducts.  I really don’t feel qualified to comment on that side of things in this music.

3.productionlineVideo direction is by János Darvas and it’s really good.  He captures video projections better than anything else I’ve seen on disk and he’s not afraid to show the whole, rather imposing, set.  He’s backed up, on DVD, by very adequate video quality and very good DTS surround sound but this is one recording where I would definitely prefer to see the Blu-ray version.  The only bonus on the disk is a cast gallery.  The booklet contains a synopsis and a rather good essay by Keith Potter.  Subtitle options are English, French, Spanish, German, Japanese and Korean.

4.bedI can’t see myself watching this piece very often but for those interested in Philip Glass the production, performances and recording present A Perfect American very well.

5.deadI’ve left the screencaps fullsize as the smaller images don’t really do the staging justice.  Just click on the image for a larger version.

5 thoughts on “The Perfect American

  1. Oddly enough, there was a question about this piece (“Who is The Perfect American in Philip Glass’s opera?”) in a Radio Four quiz which I was listening to an hour ago. Somebody guessed Martin Luther King…

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