28 June 2013

The Perfect American at ENO (sparkling)

Sadly there are not that many chances to go to Philip Glass operas and whenever one comes along I jump at the opportunity. This usually means visiting the ENO at the Coliseum, as it did when I went to see The Perfect American.

The American in question was Walt Disney and the opera explored the motivations of the man behind the empire.

Disney are one of the World's most enthusiastic litigants so this meant telling the story of Mickey Mouse's creator with only the barest hint at the famous iconography.

The Perfect American is Glass' latest opera so musically it is more melodic and less relentlessly rhythmic than his earlier works. This is an evolution in styles and it is still instantly recognisable as Glass. Which is good, because I love glass.

The staging had some of the same elements as Satyagraha (staged at ENO in 2007 and 2010, and it will be again in 2013) with fluttering papers, projections and flowing cloth but the impact was quite different. Satyagraha is almost a fantasy and the imagery reinforced that whereas The Perfect American is firmly set in the real worlds of Small Town America and Disney's workshop in Hollywood.

The opera covered Walt's last days with him in hospital remembering, justifying and trying to secure his legacy.

The main other character was his brother Roy, a constant companion. Other people drifted in an out of his life, such as a disgruntled artist from the Disney studios and a terminally ill boy in the hospital.

Nothing particularly dramatic happens but through Walt's reminiscences and those of others we learn more about the legend. The end result was that Walt came across as an unpleasant man if not a nasty one. I am not sure if a prejudice was intended or whether it was just mine.

A recurring theme, echoed in the music, was Walt's past in Marceline, Missouri (population, not a lot) and one of the highlights was when the full chorus representing the townspeople were on stage singing.

Both lead singers sang beautifully, clearly and eloquently. That combined with Glass' music was enough to make this a good opera. Add the other voices and the staging and it was superb.

The Perfect American was another excellent night at the opera with Philip Glass. I can only hope that there are many more to come.

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