OPERA REVIEW

Philip Glass’s ‘The Perfect American’

Madrid sees premiere of work based on life of Walt Disney

Zachary James (c), in the role of Abraham Lincoln during a moment from ´The Perfect American´ at Madrid's Teatro Real.
Zachary James (c), in the role of Abraham Lincoln during a moment from ´The Perfect American´ at Madrid's Teatro Real.Javier del Real (EFE)

A world premiere always imposes itself, though on this occasion The Perfect American was playing on safe territory. The Madrid public is no stranger to the music of Philip Glass. His Einstein on the Beach was staged here in 1984 and other works have followed, pointing to a warm reception for the opera at the Teatro Real on Tuesday night, which is what it got.

The Perfect American is an opera, if you forgive the repetition, that is profoundly American. It talks about Walt Disney, a legend of the 20th century. And does so with a range of intentions. Glass’s 21st-century-style way of sing-speaking propels a concentration on textual values. The orchestra underlines and creates disturbing atmospheres at every moment, but the point of departure is the words being sung.

Dennis Russell Davies is a conductor seasoned in Glass’s musical language and extracts an exceptional performance from the orchestra. The music’s repetitive nature produces an almost hypnotic feeling that favors ambivalence and more strongly forces out the contradictory sides of the characters, with all their magnanimity and misery.

The staging does not have an excessively starring role, but is full of details that help to understand the evolution of the Disney myth, as much in its personal as its corporate and sociological aspects. From the lead character’s feelings of melancholy through memories of his childhood home, to the dreamlike, almost surreal, atmosphere that pursues him at certain moments in the form of nightmares.

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