Streaming Free: Philip Glass Opera “The Perfect American” about Walt Disney from Teatro Real, Madrid

Philip Glass Opera “The Perfect American” at a Perfect Price – (Free)
by Larry Murray

(Part of a series about streaming entertainment vs. commercial cable and satellite)

A new opera by Philip Glass is exciting enough, but the chance to see it over the next three months (until May 1 2012) in true High Quality via digital streaming is a gift of the gods. It’s all thanks to a fledgeling enterprise, which has some 1,000 amazing performances captured on video, many of them free, others pay-per-view.

The Perfect American, Walt Disney

The Perfect American, Walt Disney

The Perfect American by Philip Glass is currently being performed at the Teatro Real in Madrid (Spain) and on Wednesday afternoon February 6 at 2pm (EST) a live performance will be streamed via medici to the world. It will remain available for 90 days following. The video embedded above gives a good account of the production’s goals, and comments from composer Glass and others illuminate his latest work.

The Perfect American was composed in 2011 under a commission from Teatro Real Madrid. The libretto is based on a book of the same name by Peter Stephan Jungk and covers the final months of the life of Walt Disney. The world premiere was at the Teatro Real, Madrid on January 22, 2013 with British baritone Christopher Purves taking the role of Disney. The UK premiere is scheduled for June 1, 2013 in a production by the English National Opera at the London Coliseum.


No American performances are scheduled yet. So streaming video is the best way to catch this work about the legendary and controversial Walt Disney. However, you might be well advised to double check the urban legends, some of which are contained in this review:

Christopher Purves portrays a tormented Disney in the Philip Glass Opera, The Perfect American..

Christopher Purves portrays a tormented Disney in the Philip Glass Opera, The Perfect American..

“Disney had his own private torments and is reputed to have railed against unions, blacks and Jews. At least that is part of the 21st century Disney legend, and it is necessarily part of Philip Glass’ new opera, “The Perfect American.” Far from sterilized yet also disarmingly affectionate, it looks at Disney the myth, the artist and the man. The work contrasts between the America that formed Walt Disney and the America he formed for the rest of us.” (Mark Swed, LA Times, 1/24/2013)

On the other hand, another biographer, Charles Solomon debunks these claims:

“The premiere of Philip Glass’ new opera “The Perfect American,” in Madrid last month, and Mark Swed’s front page review in the LA Times, reminded me of the bizarre falsehoods people seem willing to believe about Walt Disney. Based on Peter Stephan Jungk’s novel–which I found unreadable–“Perfect American” depicts Walt as an untalented, alcoholic, anti-Semitic racist, carrying on an affair with nurse Hazel George. I’ve spent decades researching Walt Disney and his films; I’ve interviewed dozens of artists who worked with and for him, from his first days as an animator in Kansas City to his last weeks in Burbank. This misbegotten portrait is as bogus as the rumor Walt’s body was frozen and is stored somewhere under Disneyland.” – Charles Solomon in Off Ramp

The opera takes time to recount the birth of Disney’s Abraham Lincoln. The animatronic Lincoln, incorporating cutting-edge technology that gives the mechanical man nuanced, lifelike facial expressions and lip movements, first debuted at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York.

The animatronic Lincoln, played by Zachary Jones.

The animatronic Lincoln, played by Zachary Jones.

In an update to history, Disney imagineers spent the last year sweating such technological details as how to coax Lincoln’s synthetic lips to purse as if he were saying “oooh,” they nonetheless left the audio pastiche of Lincoln quotes that the figure speaks unchanged.

Instead, Disney dusted off and remastered the original 40-plus-year audio recordings made by character actor Royal Dano. And Dano’s rendition, despite being identified in the public’s mind as the voice of Lincoln, doesn’t actually sound much like that of the 16th president of the United States, prominent Lincoln historians say. Lincoln had a voice that often hit the upper registers when he was nervous, history records, not a booming Orson Welles-James Earl Jones basso profondo.

The medici site streams many new works for free, and has a ninety day window in which that policy continues. After that they are available as catalog items for a fee. There library of great works is so massive that many people subscribe to the service on a monthly basis.

It is well worth exploring to see what recent performances are still available gratis, and to check over the rare selection of historic performances you can rent at a nominal charge.

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