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Long Beach, CA (The Perfect American)
Music by Philip Glass
Libretto by Rudy Wurlitzer
Mar. 12, 2017 • 2:30PM
Mar. 18, 2017 • 8:00PM
The Terrace Theater
300 E Ocean Blvd.
Long Beach, CA 90802
“My greatest creation is Walt Disney.” – Walt Disney
A fictionalized account of Walt Disney’s final days. He is haunted by his own mortality, boundless ambition, and visionary empire. There is more to this icon than simply making dreams come true. With appearances by Abraham Lincoln, Andy Warhol, and Disney’s family, this whirlwind contemporary opera is a poetic and tragic story of the American Dream.
Glass’ 25th opera The Perfect American was originally commissioned by the New York City Opera in 2008. The world premiere took place at the Teatro Real in Madrid in 2013. The libretto by Rudy Wurlitzer is based on the controversial biographical novel, Der König von Amerika by Peter Stephan Jungk. The novel imagines the last three months of the life of Walt Disney from the tales of the fictional Austrian cartoonist Wilhelm Dantine, who – before being fired – had worked for Disney between 1940 and 1950. The creator of Mickey Mouse is depicted as something of a megalomaniac racist, misogynist (only men were allowed to draw, women were only allowed coloring) and for exposing three of his employees before the committee on un-American activities.
Glass describes the last years of the life of Walt Disney “unimaginable, alarming and truly frightening”, but cedes him responsibility for his own ideas because he believes they are the product of the context in which he lived. He sees him as “a child of his time with very conservative ideas, yes, but a great visionary”, “a human being in ordinary and extraordinary times”, “an icon of modernity, a man capable of building bridges between high culture and popular culture”. In this sense it recalls that “Disney has always been conscious of the attitudes of ordinary people and also allowed the masses to address the high culture by introducing the music of Tchaikovsky and others in his films”.
For him, his opera “is not a documentary or portrait” but a “journey poetic and tragic” through the last months of the life of an artist who “faced the same doubts that beset us all”. He therefore conceived as a kind of poem on the quintessentially American and a reflection on death.