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Phillip Glass' The Perfect American is a very interesting work, though it's never going to be one of my favourites. Glass' music is hypnotic and often beautiful, if occasionally undermining narrative momentum and lacking in variation, and the story is interesting with its take on Walt Disney's later life and sometimes moving, though it has occasions where it lacks dramatic purpose. This production is well worth the watch and fascinating, with much to admire.
While the opera may not be for all tastes and it is not the easiest of operas to warm to, there is not much that is wrong with the production itself. There are instances where the choreography movements have a rather stagey slow motion effect that jars with the music, and there are parts that feel a bit draggy and overlong as result of the libretto not always maintaining dramatic purpose.
The production does look fantastic, the fusion of mechanical and digital providing a visual feast. The costumes and sets are gorgeous, colourful and rich in surreal atmosphere and the projections are strikingly nostalgic and add to that haunting surrealism, all fitting perfectly with the material. The DVD only adds to the quality, not cheapening it at all, the videography has an unobtrusive and cinematic feel and the picture and sound quality are sharp and clear. A lot of imagination went into the choreography, including the nightmarish bunny rabbits and the malfunctioning Abraham Lincoln, while the very natural acting helps make the drama riveting enough and stunningly and imaginatively nightmarish, regardless of any reservations one has for the opera. The dancers do excellently with it as well.
Musically, The Perfect American is exceptionally performed. The orchestral playing is rich in texture, with all the different layers and textures brought out to beautiful effect. It is also always precise, remarkably subtle and dripping in atmosphere. Dennis Russell Davie' expertise in Glass' music shows in a very dramatically alert and sympathetic performance, which accommodates the singers and drama while maintaining momentum. The performances are very fine across the board, with the resonantly sung and wonderfully acted Walt Disney of Christopher Purves, who brings many layers and likability to an egotistical character, and Donald Kaasch's poignant Dantine standing out. John Easterlin's Andy Warhol is like a breath of bright fresh air amidst a story with a dark atmosphere, and Zachary James' flexibility and movements for Abraham Lincoln are pretty jaw-dropping and hilarious to see and done so confidently by him. David Soar is appropriately hard-nosed, and Janis Kelly and Pamela Helen Stephen give splendidly colourful performances too. The children are similarly touching.
To conclude, a fascinating production with much to admire. 8/10 Bethany Cox
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