Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Philip Glass: The Perfect American – World Premiere

It's like they say in Richard Strauss' Capriccio: it's hard to tell the arias from the recitatives. What Strauss noted of Gluck is true of Philip Glass. Many of the orchestral effects are wonderful, and there is more variety of sound and texture here than in many of Glass' other works. There are some lyrical moments and massive choral movements. Unfortunately, dialog that is more recitative-like is in an awkward, sing-song style that sounds like a comedy improv group pretending to sing opera.

At least I now know why this American opera premiered in Spain. It was commissioned for the New York City Opera, but when Gerard Mortier left City Opera for Teatro Real in Spain, The Perfect American went with him. With music by Philip Glass, and libretto by Rudy Wurlitzer adapted from the novel  by Peter Stephan Jungk, The Perfect American has only slightly more plot than the average Glass opera. The first act focuses on Walt's public life, while the second act explores Walt's inner insecurities. The opera can still be viewed free of charge at Medici TV.

There are no subtitles (it's sung in English, and maybe they knew I was watching from the U.S.) but some clips I've seen have Spanish subtitles. The libretto is fairly prosaic. I don't just mean that it's written in prose. That's not the issue. I mean, it's an opera. Let's have some poetic-sounding prose. Many of the lines (in my opinion) don't sing, and aren't worth singing. That being said, at least I could understand the text well enough to form an opinion about itThe male soloists are pretty easy to understand, while the texts of women and chorus kind of get lost in the mix. 

It also helps that all the major soloists are native English-speakers. British baritone Christopher Purves and American bass-baritone David Pittsinger stand out as Walt and Roy (pictured above), making the most of Glass' vocal lines. American tenor Donald Kaasch plays Walt's nemesis, an animator Walt fired. In smaller roles, American barihunk Zachary James is creepily effective as the audio-animatronic Abraham Lincoln, and American character tenor John Easterlin (who is probably more animated than the real artist ever was) as Andy Warhol.

What's most striking in this piece is the orchestral music, the use of lighting and projections (animated by rotating cameras and scrims), and the fascinating choreography of The Improbable Skills Ensemble. The ensemble, dressed as animators, also serves as a kind of Greek Chorus and stage hands. They literally move the action along. The overall production matches the random, sometimes nightmarish tone of the story. I was looking forward to this opera, I enjoyed it, and I may watch it again. But I doubt I'd buy a CD of it. 

Walt argues with the defective 
Audio-animatronic Abraham Lincoln

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments are very welcome! They won't be moderated; but rude, abusive, and/or radically off-topic posts will be removed.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...