"The Perfect American" in Book and Opera Form [Weekend Reading]
Back in 2003, Other Press—one of the most interesting independent presses out there—brought out a book about Walt Disney entitled The Perfect American by Peter Stephan Jungk and translated from the Germany by Michael Hofmann.
I remember hearing about this book from my friend Blake Radcliffe (which, I still maintain, would be a fantastic porn star name . . . Blake Radcliffe and Lexy Spry . . .) when he worked at Other Press. It sounds pretty interesting—the novel focuses on the last few months of crazy Walt Disney’s crazy Walt Disney life (his delusions of immortality, EPCOT as Utopia, etc.) from the point of view of Wilhelm Dantine, a cartoonist who worked for Disney on Sleeping Beauty.
Unfortunately, I never got around to reading this (sorry Blake!), but I’m planning on getting to it soon, since Other Press just brought out a paperback edition to celebrate the new Philip Glass opera version that just premiered in Madrid.
From the New York Times:
Peter Stephan Jungk’s novel The Perfect American is a surreal, meditative, episodic account of the last days of Walt Disney.
It seems at first glance to be an ideal source for an opera by Philip Glass, whose surreal, meditative, episodic explorations of the lives of famous men — always men — have formed the bulk of his prodigious operatic output. [. . .]
At the fourth performance on Wednesday, the subtle, moody score, at war between its propulsive and serene impulses, felt more than equal in quality to the festive occasion. While criticisms of Mr. Glass’s music as cookie-cutter have always been misguided, The Perfect American finds him in especially unpredictable form, experimenting with sonorities, textures and pacing.
Led by the Glass veteran Dennis Russell Davies with careful attention to both its underlying pulse and its twists of temperament, the opera opens with an ominous, low murmur punctuated by sharp, syncopated percussion snaps. The sound gradually expands through the orchestra and warms into something that, under Mr. Davies, has more gentle swing than the relentless forward motion generally associated with Mr. Glass.
The music often seems devised to trail off, to run out of steam as it expresses Disney’s struggle with the cancer from which he died in 1966 at 65. But there is nothing exhausted about its inventiveness. Simultaneously eclectic and cohesive, the score incorporates strange, fractured brass fanfares out of Janacek’s Makropulos Case and lilting, seductive rhythms that feel almost foxtrotty, like a misty echo of the 1930s.
Here’s a promo video from Teatro Real:
Too bad I’m not planning a trip to Madrid any time soon . . . At least I can read the book.
And since I LOVE Rework: Philip Glass Remixed album that just came out, and SUPER LOVE Dan Deacon, here’s his contribution, “Alight Spiral Snip.”