Sunday, January 27, 2013

A Perfect American, Philip Glass Opera About Walt Disney

Difficult week for the WDC... After the screening at Sundance Film Festival of "Escape from Tomorrow" filmed entirely at WDW and Disneyland without any WDC authorization, just a few days ago an opera (!) based on Walt Disney  and produced by English National Opera had its premiere at Teatro Real in Madrid, Spain, and the reviews are very good.

Called " A Perfect American" - production poster above - the opera was written by world famous and talented composer Philip Glass, and - that's where the problem is - the story is based on a controversial book about Walt Disney written by Peter Stephan Jungk in 2005 which is a fictionalised account of working at Disney's cartoon factory. Jungk's book tells the story from the perspective of a disgruntled employee who is sacked by Disney for trying to start a union and who then resolves to confront the man who has ruined his life and taken credit for the talents of many others.

More from a Guardian article : "The opera concentrates on the last years of Disney's life, when he lay dying of lung cancer and portrays Disney as a megalomaniac with McCarthyite, racist and misogynist tendencies, so you'll understand why the Walt Disney Company has denied rights to use any Disney characters or cartoons or anything else about Disney in the opera. "This opera is a surreal dream," said John Berry, artistic director of English National Opera. "It is not a biography and the truth is that we would probably not have used the real Disney characters in the production even if we had been allowed to."

Berry said that Improbable, the acclaimed British ensemble who have created the piece for the Coliseum and for the Teatro-Real in Madrid, have worked on the opera in their unique way and have felt no visual limitations. "They will be using animal imagery, puppets and shadow plays performed behind a screen to create a sort of abstract world. That is why we felt this is the right story to tell in an opera. It is not a realistic vision," he said. Below,early design sketches for the opera.

"When I started out, people thought I was going to laugh at him," Philip Glass has said recently. "But I see Walt Disney as an icon of modernity, a man able to build bridges between highbrow culture and popular culture; just like Leonard Bernstein, who could jump from a Broadway musical to a Mahler cycle."

Walt Disney Studios called Glass to dissuade him, but by then the composer was committed. Glass asked librettist Rudy Wurlitzer to turn the book into an opera and the work was duly sent to Disney Studios for consideration. There was no response and Jungk, the original author, interpreted this as "a green light".
"Neither the English National Opera nor the director, Phelim McDermott of Improbable, have felt any sort of dark presence looming over us as we worked on this," said Berry. "We have created a great poster that will be used in Spain and London and which you have got to look at quite deeply to understand what it means."

In a key early scene, Disney is tended by a nurse he calls Snow White, when his family visit together with the directors of the Disney Company. The dying mogul makes them all take a solemn promise on the American flag never to say the word "die". In later scenes Disney compares himself to Henry Ford, Thomas Edison and Abraham Lincoln and says he is convinced that Ronald Reagan will become president if he will follow his advice.
Jungk's book does not flatter Disney or his vengeful employee, Wilhelm Dantine, and the opera follows the same path. Jungk describes the day that Disney hired the fictional Dantine as the happiest in Dantine's life, but his book then charts his obsessive and thankless efforts to win the praise of his boss.
Yet in the new opera, as in the book, although the portrait of Disney is clearly unappealing the artists who work for him still show devotion and Old Walt finally emerges as a tragically flawed creative genius."

The opera will start in London next June but you can read a Los Angeles Times review HERE and most of all watch some filming in the video below.

Pictures: copyright A Perfect American - English National Opera

Video: copyright Community Teatro Real

Part of text: copyright The Guardian


Marco Antonio Garcia said...

I'm for free speech, so I think that people can do the opera that they want, but I personally am not interested in it and I won't watch it.

I understand that it's just a fiction, but Walt haters are going to love it and use it.

I've read a lot about Walt and know that, like every human being, he was not perfect, but he left a really nice positive legacy that brings joy and happiness to the life of so many people all over the world, so I admire him a lot.

Regarding the way that he treated his employees, he was the head of a big company and he always wanted to do the best for his public, so he had to be strict, but from the interviews that I've watched and read with his closest and most famous collaborators, I understand that they all admired, respected and even loved him.

Alain Littaye said...

Dear Marco, Although i think that the book which has served as inspiration for the opera is certainly a bit biased, i'm not sure that in the opera they're as much biased as the book was. That said, we all know that Walt was for sure a genius but he was also a human being, and like all human beings, not perfect. Does this mean that anyone must hit the nail on Walt's flaws? I'm not sure it's extremely interesting but Walt became such a myth that it's probably almost unavoidable that such experiences - like this Philip Glass opera - happen.

Marco Antonio Garcia said...

Yes, I agree with you that it's almost unavoidable that such experiences like this opera happen, being Walt such a "legendary" figure, but judging from the LA times review that I've read, I think that the opera is going to be very biased indeed.

I haven't watched it, so I may be wrong, but after reading the reviews I really doubt it.

I know that such things are unavoidable, but I'm not going to "support" them, so I really won't watch, as I think that they are even offensive.