Philip Glass. the Perfect American

By Doering, James M. | Notes, September 2014 | Go to article overview

Philip Glass. the Perfect American


Doering, James M., Notes


Philip Glass. The Perfect American. DVD (Blu-ray). Dennis Russell Davies / Madrid Teatro Real Chorus and Orchestra. With Christopher Purves, David Pittsinger, Donald Kaasch, Janis Kelly, Marie McLaughlin. Directed by Phelim McDermott. London: Opus Arte, 2013. OA1117D. $29.99.

The world premiere of Philip Glass's twenty-fifth opera, The Perfect American, has been released on DVD/Blu-ray, and the result is impressive. The performance, conducted by Dennis Russell Davies and directed by Phelim McDermott, was co-produced in January 2013 by the Teatro Real and the English National Opera. It was filmed and recorded in HD surround sound. The disc also includes excellent liner notes by Glass scholar Keith Potter.

Set in 1966, The Perfect American is about a dying Walt Disney. Diagnosed with cancer, the patriarch of animation turns inward and contemplates his mortality, his legacy, and America's cultural fabric. He is an arrogant yet vulnerable figure, consumed by power and terrified of death. The libretto is based on Peter Stephan Jungk's 2004 novel Der Kiinig von Amerika, and Glass's opera tackles the subject effectively. The Perfect American is tightly composed (clocking in at just under two hours), thought provoking, and poignantly beautiful. Baritone Christopher Purves brings a visceral edge to the Walt Disney role, and he is surrounded by strong performances, particularly tenor Donald Kaasch as the maligned studio worker Dantine and bass Zachary James as the animatronic Abraham Lincoln.

Glass maintains a minimalist aesthetic throughout much of the work, and his delicately layered ostinatos, undulating rhythms, and long lyrical lines thoughtfully complement Disney's nostalgic ruminations and creeping paranoia. But Glass also demonstrates his musical versatility, most notably in the choral writing, which commands a significant role throughout the work. …

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