Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Claude Debussy and Lili Boulanger commemorated at the Proms

Two French commemorations - ‘anniversaries’ always seems the wrong word - and surely is - here: the centenary of the deaths of Claude Debussy and Lili Boulanger.

Pique Dame in Salzburg

It was emeritus night at the Salzburg Festival with 75 year old maestro Mariss Jansons conducting 77 year old stage director Hans Neuenfels production about Pushkin’s 87 year old countess known as the Pique Dame.

Lohengrin at Bayreuth

Three electrifying moments and the world is forever changed.

Salome in Salzburg

A Romeo Castellucci production is always news, it is even bigger news just now in Salzburg where Lithuanian soprano Asmik Grigorian has made her debut as the fifteen year-old Salome.

Vaughan Williams Dona nobis pacem - BBC Prom 41

Prom 41 at the Royal Albert Hall, London, with Edward Gardner conducting the BBCSO in Vaughan Williams's Dona nobis pacem, Elgar's Cello Concerto (Jean-Guihen Queyras) and Lili Boulanger . Extremely perceptive performances that revealed deep insight, far more profound than the ostensible "1918" theme

John Wilson brings Broadway to South Kensington: West Side Story at the BBC Proms

There were two, equal ‘stars’ of this performance of the authorised concert version of Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story at the Royal Albert Hall: ‘Lenny’ himself, whose vibrant score - by turns glossy and edgy - truly shone, and conductor John Wilson, who made it gleam, and who made us listen afresh and intently to every coloristic detail and toe-tapping, twisting rhythm.

Prom 36: Webern, Mahler, and Wagner

One of the joys of writing regularly – sometimes, just sometimes, I think too regularly – about performance has been the transformation, both conscious and unconscious, of my scholarship.

Prom 33: Thea Musgrave, Phoenix Rising, and Johannes Brahms, Ein deutsches Requiem, op.45

I am not sure I could find much of a connection between the two works on offer here. They offered ‘contrast’ of a sort, I suppose, yet not in a meaningful way such as I could discern.

Gianni Schicchi by Oberlin in Italy

It’s an all too rare pleasure to see Puccini’s only comedy as a stand alone opera. And more so when it is a careful production that uncovers the all too often overlooked musical and dramatic subtleties that abound in Puccini’s last opera.

Sarah Connolly and Joseph Middleton journey through the night at Cadogan Hall

The mood in the city is certainly soporific at the moment, as the blistering summer heat takes its toll and the thermometer shows no signs of falling. Fittingly, mezzo-soprano Dame Sarah Connolly and pianist Joseph Middleton presented a recital of English song settings united by the poetic themes of night, sleep, dreams and nightmares, juxtaposing masterpieces of the early-twentieth-century alongside new works by Mark-Anthony Turnage and Australian composer Lisa Illean, and two ‘long-lost’ songs by Britten.

Vanessa: Keith Warner's Glyndebourne production exposes truths and tragedies

“His child! It must not be born!” Keith Warner’s new production of Samuel Barber’s Vanessa for Glyndebourne Festival Opera makes two births, one intimated, the other aborted, the driving force of the tragedy which consumes two women, Vanessa and her niece Erika, rivals for the same young man, Anatol, son of Vanessa’s former lover.

Rollicking Rossini in Santa Fe

Santa Fe Opera welcomed home a winningly animated production of L’Italiana in Algeri this season that utterly delighted a vociferously responsive audience.

Rock solid Strauss Salomé- Salzburg

Richard Strauss Salomé from the Salzburg Festival, conducted by Franz Welser-Möst, a powerful interpretation of an opera which defies easy answers, performed and produced with such distinction thast it suceeds on every level. The words "Te saxa Loquuntur" (The stones are speaking to you) are projected onto the stage. Salzburg regulars will recognize this as a reference to the rock foundations on which part of the city is built, and the traditions of excellence the Festival represents. In this opera, the characters talk at cross-purposes, hearing without understanding. The phrase suggests that what might not be explicitly spoken might have much to reveal.

Prom 26: Dido and Cleopatra – Queens of Fascination

In this, her Proms debut, Anna Prohaska offered something akin to a cantata of two queens, complementary and contrasted: Dido and Cleopatra. Returning in a sense to her ‘early music’ roots – her career has always been far richer, more varied, but that world has always played an important part – she collaborated with the Italian ‘period’ ensemble, Il Giardino Armonico and Giovanni Antonini.

Parsifal: Munich Opera Festival

And so, this year’s Munich Opera Festival and this year’s Bavarian State Opera season came to a close with everyone’s favourite Bühnenweihfestspiel, Parsifal, in the final outing this time around for Pierre Audi’s new production.

Santa Fe: Atomic Doesn’t Quite Ignite

What more could we want than having Peter Sellars re-imagine his acclaimed staging of John Adams’ Doctor Atomic at the renowned Santa Fe Opera festival?

Santa Fe: Continuing a Proud Strauss Tradition

Santa Fe Opera has an enduring reputation for its Strauss, and this season’s enjoyable Ariadne auf Naxos surely made John Crosby smile proudly.

From the House of the Dead: Munich Opera Festival

Frank Castorf might have been born to direct From the House of the Dead. In this, his third opera project - or better, his third opera project in the opera house, for his Volksbühne Meistersinger must surely be reckoned with, even by those of us who did not see it - many of his hallmarks and those of his team are present, yet without the slightest hint of staleness, of anything other than being reborn for and in the work.

Haydn's Orlando Paladino in Munich

Should you not like eighteenth-century opera very much, if at all, and should you have no or little interest in Haydn either, this may have been the production for you. The fundamental premise of Axel Ranisch’s staging of Orlando Paladino seems to have been that this was a work of little fundamental merit, or at least a work in a genre of little such merit, and that it needed the help of a modern medium - perhaps, it might even be claimed, an equivalent medium - to speak to a contemporary audience.

Donizetti's 'Regiment' Ride the Highway: Opera della Luna at Wilton's Music Hall

'The score … is precisely one of those works that neither the composer nor the public takes seriously. The harmony, melody, rhythmic effects, instrumental and vocal combinations; it’s music, if you wish, but not new music. The orchestra consumes itself in useless noises…'

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Photo by Javier del Real courtesy of English National Opera
02 Jun 2013

Philip Glass: The Perfect American

Philip Glass's The Perfect American at the ENO in London is a visual treat, but the libretto is mind-numbingly anodyne.

Philip Glass The Perfect American

A review by Anne Ozorio

Above: Photo by Javier del Real courtesy of English National Opera

 

This is not classic Glass, but some plastic imitation. Walt Disney's life would make fantastic drama. Phelim McDermott and Improbable give us wonderful visual images. But Glass and his librettist Rudy Wurlitzer seem to have lost the plot. The Perfect American should have been a silent movie.

As Disney discovered, cartoon characters come alive when they tell a good story. Cartoons are static images, thousands of frames meticulously drawn by hand. They only come alive when a machine runs them in sequence. Movement is illusion. Glass's music can work as drama. His whirring repetitions suggest the mechanical processes used in film. We can "hear" whirring of the camera, and imagine the way individual cells of film are transformed when the projector rolls. Glass makes the connection between cartoons and trains. Both run on tracks, both are inanimates transformed by machine. Thousands of illustrators worked on Disney's films but their work only became art when he processed it. In theory, Philip Glass could have made good music to fit the subject. But even by his own standards, The Perfect American feels like a tired re-run.

There's nothing wrong with repetition per se, but here it's an excuse to pad out a marginal story line. The Perfect American might work as drama if it were cut down to, say, 60 minutes, distilling it down to the essentials. Glass's In the Penal Colony was powerful because it was so tightly written. You felt like you were inside the infernal machine operated by a demonic entity. It even works as pure music, though the Music Theatre Wales staging was superb. (Read review here and here). This is minimalism free of danger or meaning. It's quite pleasant in its own way, an ideal alternative to sleeping pills or a shot of whisky before bed. But Glass needs focus to concentrate his mind from wandering. Listening to The Perfect American without visuals would, I think, be torture.

The Disney Corporation refused to allow the use of Disney images in the production, but Phelim McDermott gets round this by showing the camera. Its round reels look like Mickey's ears. The projection shaft looks like a mouth.. Just as Disney anthromorphized animals, McDermott turns machine into Mouse. Improbable's group sequences are always notable. The chorus moves like a single organism made from many parts. The chorus helps the figure of Abraham Lincoln move, like a puppet on strings. The political allusions are valid, but curiously undeveloped. The libretto flits from idea to idea without depth or perception.

If Glass were to save The Perfect American as drama, he's be wise to stick to a few strong images and ditch the less relevant. Lincoln (extremely well realized by Zachary James) is worth keeping because McDermott shows him so well, but Disney and Ronald Reagan are innocent indeed compared with the machinations of modern politics. Andy Warhol (John Easterlin) is a character worth saving because Warhol and Disney had so much in common. If Glass's focus is on Disney as visionary artist, there's a lot of potential. But the libretto is fatally diffuse.

Christopher Purves sings Walt and David Soar sings Roy Disney. Good performances but the script lets them down. Both singers have enough musical nous to sing their lines so they flow better than what's in the subtitles. Sometimes, Glass's problems with text work out fine because they emphasize meaning. Mechanical expression squashes human speech. In The Perfect American, the text is just plain dumb. These roles are central. Both Disney brothers were visionaries in their own ways. Whether you like multinational corporations or not, they helped create the genre. Perhaps Glass and his librettist were inhibited by fear of litigation. But the Disneys were remarkable people: the Disney Corporation has nothing to fear. Especially not from a work as inept as this. There is one spark of perception in the text. The Disneys are "hiding behind a mouse and a duck". But that's all. Then the moment is gone.

Soar is an interesting singer, much admired since his early days at WNO. Hopefully we'll hear more of him at the ENO. Donald Kaasch sings William Dantine, the employee fired for organizing a union. As "evidence" that Disney mistreated his employees, it's pretty weak, since far worse things happened and happen still. The Lucy/Josh character (Rosie Lomas) is bizarre. If Lucy is an apparition based on the ghost of an owl Disney killed as a child, there's potential in that too, but the role is so badly drawn (by the librettist, not the singer) that it's a waste of time. We don't really need to know so much about how Disney loved nature. But as my friend exclaimed. "Disney wasn't Janáček!".

An opera that would have been better as silent film? The irony would not have been lost on Walt and Roy. It doesn't matter how you tell a story as long as you have a story to tell in the first place.

Anne Ozorio

For production details see the ENO site.

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):