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Philip GLASS (b. 1937)
The Perfect American - opera (2013)
ORANGE MOUNTAIN MUSIC OMM0102 [59:18 + 44:12]

The amazing thing is that Philip Glass has composed well over twenty operas, with ten of them being produced around the world in 2017. The Perfect American was composed between 2011 and 2012 and was premiered the following year at the Teatro Real Madrid, which had commissioned the work. It is based upon the book Der König von Amerika by Peter Stephan Jungk with a libretto by Rudolph Wurlitzer and tells the fictional account of the last three months of the life of Walt Disney as told by Wilhelm Dantine, a fictitious cartoonist and one time Disney employee. In the novel, Walt Disney is depicted as a misogynist, racist and anti-Semitic Nazi sympathiser, aspects which are explored in the opera.

Often described as the doyen of ‘minimalist’ composers, Philip Glass actually talks of himself as a composer of “music with repetitive structures”, and for me it is in his operas that Glass is more able to develop his style. Maybe it is the drama itself that dictates his musical palette, but it is his operas which I find the most developed and rewarding of his works. This is the case here. As in his great earlier operas, he is able step away from the repeated arpeggios, for which he is famous. A musician friend of mine once said that “Philip Glass is to the arpeggio what MacDonalds is to the hamburger”, and here he develops them into a more structured dramatic work. Yes, the unmistakable Glass style is present here, as it is in all of his operas, but the arpeggios are short and used to illustrate specific aspects of the drama.

The performance is excellent with Christopher Purves as a well figured Walt Disney standing out. His interplay with some of the other characters is wonderful, for example those in Act I Scene II between Walt Disney and ‘Nurse Hazel’, his ‘Snow White’, are quite touching. Those in Act II Scene II between Walt and Dantine are anguished and heated. There are some seriously good performances here and the soloists are well backed up by the chorus and orchestra of the Teatro Real Madrid. This is a most welcome addition to the Glass catalogue, one which, if it does not quite match the heights of his earlier biographical operatic masterpieces certainly strives to be up there.

The sound is very good. Yes, this is a live production so expect all the non-musical noises that this entails, especially if listening through headphones. That said, they are not too intrusive and certainly didn’t spoil my enjoyment. The opera is presented in a double digipack with the libretto in English only. If you want a synopsis of the opera you will have to look elsewhere, as the only notes come in the form of three tiny paragraphs which hardly do the opera justice. This means that you constantly have to refer to the libretto to know who is who and what is going on. This is only a little inconvenience.

Stuart Sillitoe

Performance & recording details
Walt Disney - Christopher Purves
Roy Disney - David Pittsinger
Dantine - Donald Kaasch
Hazel George - Janis Kelly
Lillian Disney - Marie McLaughlin
Sharon - Sarah Tynan
Diane - Nazan Fikret
Lucy/Josh - Rosie Lomas
Abraham Lincoln/A funerary worker - Zachary James
Andy Warhol - John Easterlin
Chuck/A doctor - Juan Noval-Moro
A secretary - Beatriz De Gálvez
Nurse - Noelia Buńuel
Chorus and Orchestra of the Teatro Real Madrid/Dennis Russell Davies
rec. live, Teatro Real Madrid, February 2013

 

 




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