About The Opera
Music by Philip Glass
Libretto by Rudy Wurlitzer
"My greatest creation is Walt Disney." - Walt Disney
A fictionalized account of Walt Disney's final days. He is haunted by his own mortality, boundless ambition, and visionary empire. There is more to this icon than simply making dreams come true. With appearances by Abraham Lincoln, Andy Warhol, and Disney's family, this whirlwind contemporary opera is a poetic and tragic story of the American Dream.
“...a great American opera that needs to be seen in L.A. And it is also the only great L.A. opera." - Mark Swed, The LA Times.
Glass' 25th opera The Perfect American was originally commissioned by the New York City Opera in 2008. The world premiere took place at the Teatro Real in Madrid in 2013. The libretto by Rudy Wurlitzer is based on the controversial biographical novel, Der König von Amerika by Peter Stephan Jungk. Der König von Amerika was translated to The Perfect American by Michael Hofmann, you can find his English version here. The novel imagines the last three months of the life of Walt Disney from the tales of the fictional Austrian cartoonist Wilhelm Dantine, who – before being fired – had worked for Disney between 1940 and 1950. The creator of Mickey Mouse is depicted as something of a megalomaniac racist, misogynist (only men were allowed to draw, women were only allowed coloring) and for exposing three of his employees before the committee on un-American activities.
Glass describes the last years of the life of Walt Disney "unimaginable, alarming and truly frightening", but cedes him responsibility for his own ideas because he believes they are the product of the context in which he lived. He sees him as "a child of his time with very conservative ideas, yes, but a great visionary", "a human being in ordinary and extraordinary times", "an icon of modernity, a man capable of building bridges between high culture and popular culture". In this sense it recalls that "Disney has always been conscious of the attitudes of ordinary people and also allowed the masses to address the high culture by introducing the music of Tchaikovsky and others in his films".
For him, his opera "is not a documentary or portrait" but a "journey poetic and tragic" through the last months of the life of an artist who "faced the same doubts that beset us all". He therefore conceived it as a kind of poem on the quintessentially American and a reflection on death.
American composer, Philip Glass, was born 1937 in Baltimore, Maryland where he began collecting records from his father's record store including modern music and western classical music. At the young age 15, Glass was accepted into an accelerated college program at the University of Chicago studying Mathematics and Philsophy. Glass discovered surealism in Chicago and a few years later attended the Julliard School of Music where he studied keyboard and composition. Now a composer of operas and symphones he has collaborated with artists such as Twyla Tharp, Allen Ginsberg, Woody Allen and David Bowie. Along with his popular operas Einstein on the Beach, Satyagraha, Akhnaten, and The Voyage he has also composed for theater and motion pictures including The Hours, Kindun, and Koyaanisqatsi. Glass has described that his music has "immersed a listener in a sort of sonic weather that twists, turns, surrounds, develops". Considered one of the most influential music makers of the late 20th century Glass has composed over 25 operas, 8 symphonies and two piano concertos.
This project is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts. To find out more about how National Endowment for the Arts grants impact individuals and communities, visit www.arts.gov.
The Perfect American does not follow a continuous story line – the story jumps from one time and / or place to another and presents Disney in different stages of his life more or less true, more or less fictitious. The first act evokes the Walt Disney that everyone sees, the public figure as part of his family and loved ones. The second act explores what he thinks of himself; his psyche tormented but visionary artist who has devoted his life to a vision of a world without death and who now faces his own mortality, haunted by the possibility of achieving immortality.
In his hospital bed, Walt Disney in delirium imagines the head of an owl. His dream transforms into a nightmare, "No! No! Go away! I drift without knowing what is real and what is not". This is the owl he killed with his own hands as a child (he was told that it was a bird of ill omen). He wants to return to his hometown, Marceline (Missouri) "... Where dreams come true."
Walt and his brother Roy visit Marceline, the small town in the Midwest where they grew up, the magical realm of their imagination, the "soul of America where every day was magical". All residents welcome Walt as a god. At the inauguration of a public pool that Walt offered the city, Dantine Wilhelm, a cartoonist and former employee, makes his appearance.
At the hospital, Walt dreads his death. "We all have the same problem. We will all die." Nurse Hazel comforts him. Walt is filled with fear: "I'm afraid that my empire is collapsing when I am no more." He asked her to make sure he is cryogenically preserved when he dies: "Put me in the mirror or congèle me in liquid nitrogen." he sings. His wife Lillian, his brother Roy and his daughters Diane and Sharon visit him. Walt asks them to never utter the word "die".
A few years earlier, in his office studios of Burbank, he remembers his successes with his brother Roy "From Japan to Mongolia, Nepal, Portugal, Greenland, Peru, billions of people know who is Walt Disney. But we must do better, we must do more ... ". Both are preparing plans for Disneyland and deplore the ugly presence of modernity. Walt compares himself to Thomas Edison and Henry Ford. He boasts of being more famous than Santa Claus, Moses, Zeus and Jesus. Catoonist Dantine appears again and accuses Walt of unfair dismissal.
Lilian has good news for Walt. His condition has stabilized. At his home in Holmby Hills, his family gives him a surprise party for his 65th birthday. Lucy, a strange girl with an owl mask, appears to Walt reminding him of the demon owl he killed as a child.
At Anaheim, late at night, Walt tries to fix an animatronic Abraham Lincoln. He believes they both belong to the same class of American icons: "Despite all the obstacles, we've made something of ourselves. They changed the world "We are folk heroes ..." but realizes that he no longer shares the same beliefs as the illustrious hero of his childhood: "You have been a proponent of black race. That's a big difference between us." "I revere you, Mr. President, but our views do not coincide anymore." The Lincoln automat stutters his famous speeches on freedom, proclaiming the power of USA.
Andy Warhol wants to paint Walt for his series of portraits of American superstars. Roy denies him permission. Warhol proclaims his love for Disney, "Tell Walt I love him and I love his work. Tell him that we are one and the same."
The chorus sings: "Driving fast or slow to LA where everything is possible and everything is doable. Where the world is a playground and where dreams come true." Walt boards a miniature train. The train derails as Dantine reappears.
Walt remembers Dantine being fired for trying to form a union: "...his leftist and unpatriotic comments insult all that Disney represents"; he wants a machine that would be able to replace his workforce. Dantine asks for compensation, but the chorus sings that Walt is a magician who can do nothing wrong. Dantine accuses him" "All you are is a moderately successful C.E.O. Nothing more than that." Walt befriends Josh, a boy patient in the intensive care unit: "You are Walt Disney! The man who makes animals talk."
The doctor tells Lillian and her family that Walt was diagnosed with advanced lung cancer. At best he has two years to live.
Josh asks him how he managed to create and draw so many characters. Walt says he's a great storyteller, who motivates and inspires his employees: "I have not done everything without me there would be no movies." Josh thinks Walt is like God: "I realized, Walt: you are like God." Walt nods thoughtfully, "Well, in a way."
Walt dies. The chorus and the Disney family remember Marceline and its idealistic innocence. Lucy, the owl girl appears and takes Walt with her.
Dantine, dirty and in rags, meets the undertaker at the funeral home. He tells him that Walt will be cremated and not frozen. The chorus recalls the miraculous nature of the dream of Disneyland: never say "die".
Since 2003, Mitisek has been LBO's Artistic & General Director. Recent LBO directing credits: The Difficulty of Crossing a Field, King Gesar, Macbeth, Tell-Tale Heart, Van Gogh, The Paper Nautilus, Ainadamar, and Maria de Buenos Aires. Recent LBO conducting credits:Thérèse Raquin, I was Looking at the Ceiling and then I Saw the Sky, The Death of Klinghoffer, Camelia la Tejana, and The Fall of the House of Usher (co-production with COT). Other conducting credits: Joruri in Tokyo, Don Giovanni (Seattle Opera), Madama Butterfly (Orlando Opera), Jane Eyre (Opera Theatre of Saint Louis) and Eugene Onegin (Teatro Municipal in Santiago de Chile). Mitisek has also conducted the Austrian and Italian premieres of Nixon in China. In 2012, Andreas joined Chicago Opera Theater as General Director.
Praised for his “commanding presence” (Opera News) and singing of “tremendous sympathy and charisma” (NY Classical Review), American baritone Justin Ryan has appeared with companies across the United States, making company debuts in the 2015 season with Opera Columbus, Lancaster Opera, and the Mississippi Opera. Engagements in 2016 included the title role in Wendy Taucher’s new production of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville on Martha’s Vineyard, as well as debuts with the Connecticut Lyric Opera, as Count Almaviva in Le Nozze di Figaro, and The New York City Opera, where critics were unanimous in their praise for his strong portrayal of the painter Edward Hopper in Stewart Wallace’s surrealist opus, Hopper’s Wife.
“Radiant”, “Commanding”, “Compelling and Impressively touching”, are some recent accolades for soprano Lara Ryan. About her performance in the title role of Victor Herbert’s grand opera Natoma, Opera News wrote “(as Natoma) Lara Ryan sang with a creamy soprano full of power at both ends of her wide range.” She has sung with the New York Philharmonic, New England Symphony, Collegiate Chorale, Utah Festival Opera, Anchorage Opera, Madison Lyric Opera, Long Beach Opera, Opera Pacific, Sacred Music in a Sacred Space and NY Bar Association Concert Series, amongst others. Upcoming engagements include Desdemona in Verdi’s Otello.
Called “Spellbinding” by the San Francisco Chronicle, soprano Jamie Chamberlin has been recognized for her abilities as a singing actress. Recently, ArtsInLA hailed her Cunegonde in Long Beach Opera’s Candide as “Jaw-dropping.” In 2015, Jamie starred as Marilyn Monroe in the US Premiere of Gavin Bryars’ Marilyn Forever at LBO, for which Opera News praised her “shimmering tones” and “star-struck vulnerability”. Other roles include Soprano II in Glass/Ginsberg’s Hydrogen Jukebox, and Anne Sexton in Susa’s Transformations. Chamberlin’s world-premiere performances include the Soprano solo in Salonen’s Wing on Wing, Elyn Saks in The Center Cannot Hold, and Lisa in the Delos Recording of Mark Abel’s Home is a Harbor. www.jamiechamberlin.com
Coloratura soprano Rana Ebrahimi is thrilled to make her LBO debut as Lucy/Josh. Born in Iran, Rana earned an associate degree in Instrumental Music (flute) from the Performing Arts College No.46 in Tehran. Rana discovered her passion for singing in the middle of her musical path as a flutist and began private voice instruction. She moved to United States in 2013 to pursue her dream of becoming an opera singer. Rana has performed as Sister Genovieffa in Suor Angelica, Gherardino in Gianni Schicchi, and most recently as Olympia in The Tales of Hoffmann. Opera scenes performances include Ännchen (Der Freischütz), Yum-Yum (The Mikado), First Spirit (Die Zauberflöte), Poppea (L’Incoronatione di Poppea), first witch (Dido and Aeneas) and Susanna (Le Nozze di Figaro).
Tenor, composer, pianist. Operas: Jason, Jason and the Argonauts Lyric Opera of Chicago; John Wilson, Scarlet Letter Opera Colorado; Flute, Midsummer Night’s Dream and Tobias, Sweeney Todd Hawaii Opera; Almaviva, The Barber of Seville Opera Theater of St. Louis; Ramiro, La Cenerentola New Jersey Festival Orchestra. Opera companies; Palm Beach Opera, Pennsicola Opera, Crested Butte Music festival, Ohio Light Opera. Concerts: Carmina Burana NJ Festival Orchestra; Das Lied von der Erde Carnegie Hall. Recordings: Albany Records: Sousa’s El Capitan, G and S Patience and Mikado, Herbert’s The Only Girl. Naxos: Laitman’s Scarlet Letter.
A native of Albuquerque, New Mexico, Alexandra Martinez-Turano recently "smoldered sexily in her dancing and singing" while making her mainstage debut as Helena in a new production of The Fairy Queen with Chicago Opera Theater and Long Beach Opera (Chicago Tribune). Alexandra has performed the roles of Sandrina, Echo, Pamina, Adele, Anna, Julie Jordan, Pernille, and Suor Genovieffa. She has performed with Chicago Opera Theater, Opera Southwest, OperaWorks, University of New Mexico’s Opera Theater and Symphony Orchestra, University of Southern California Opera Theater, and the La Mirada Symphony. She made her European debut as Suor Geniovieffa in 2012 with the International Lyric Academy in Viterbo, Italy. In the fall of 2016, she began the Professional Diploma in Opera Studies program at the Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University. Furthermore, Alexandra is thrilled to have joined Chicago Opera Theater as a Young Artist for the 2016-2018 seasons. Alexandra is a recent graduate from USC Thornton School of Music earning a Master's degree in music. alexandramartinezturano.com
Jason Switzer recently performed in Salome with Utah Opera, La Bohème with the Gulf Coast Symphony, La Cenerentola with Lyrique en Mer, and Hänsel und Gretel with Opera Memphis. Eager to explore contemporary works, he has been heard in The Death of Klinghoffer (Adams), Tell-Tale Heart/Van Gogh (Copeland/Gordon), and Hydrogen Jukebox (Glass) with Long Beach Opera as well as world premieres of Fallujah (Stokes), Danse Russe (Moravec), and Slaying the Dragon (Ching). Other modern works have included Glory Denied (Cipullo) and Azaio (Brown). Jason is a graduate of CSU Long Beach where he studied with Marvellee Cariaga.
With LBO: Madame Raquin, Marilyn Klinhoffer, Lady Macbeth, Madeline (Fall of the House of Usher), Mrs. P (The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat), Margarita (Ainadamar), Medea, Mrs. Williamson (The Difficulty of Crossing a Field), Pat Nixon, Brünnhilde. Premiered works by Philip Glass, Rinde Eckert, Michel LeGrand, Henry Mollicone, Craig Bohmler.. Other Opera companies: San Francisco, Arizona, Chicago Opera Theater, Connecticut, Carnegie Hall, Pittsburgh, Verona, Tel Aviv, Madrid, Spoleto, Florence. Theater companies: Old Globe, Denver Center, San Jose Rep. Recordings: The Tender Land (Koch), Coyote Tales (Newport Classics).
Zeffin Quinn Hollis
Zeffin Quinn Hollis headed the Live International broadcasts of the Ward opera rendition of Miller’s The Crucible & Tobias Picker’s Emmeline, both for MezzoTV. No stranger to world premieres, Hollis has taken part in many inaugural productions with composers like Jake Heggie, Thomas Pasatieri, & Tarik O’Regan topping the list. He has been heard at Dallas Opera, Santa Fe Opera, New York City Opera, Palm Beach Opera, New Orleans Opera, Long Beach Opera, Pécs & Szeged National Theaters Hungary, and Lviv National Theatre Ukraine. Recent roles include Sweeney Todd, Falstaff, Scarpia, & Kassim in the world premiere of Fallujah. Find more at zeffin.com!
Scott Ramsay is highly regarded by opera companies across North America and abroad for his dynamic performances in repertoire ranging from bel canto to the 21st Century. With Lyric Opera of Chicago, he has sung Edgardo in Lucia di Lammermoor, Mitch in A Streetcar Named Desire, the Painter/Sailor in Lulu, and Mark in The Midsummer Marriage. His recent engagements include Narraboth in Salome with Detroit Symphony Orchestra; Riccardo in Un ballo in maschera with Boston Youth Symphony Orchestra; Beadle Bamford in Sweeney Todd with Opera Theatre of St. Louis and Virginia Opera; Henry Ward Beecher in Victoria Bond’s Mrs. President, the Opera at New York City’s Symphony Space; and Gherardo in Gianni Schicchi with Chicago Opera Theater.
Kira Dills-DeSurra (mezzo-soprano) is a second year Young Artist with Chicago Opera Theater. Recently with COT she has sung as Lysander (cover)/ Ensemble (The Fairy Queen), Isolde of the White Hands (Le Vin Herbé), La Ciesca (Gianni Schicchi), Cecilio (Cover)/Chorus (Lucio Silla),and Mary (Cabildo, Chicago Premiere, COT Young Artists). Other roles include: Stéphano (Roméo et Juliette), Chewy (Hand to Mouth, World Premiere), Second Lady (Die Zauberflöte). Her upcoming engagements include Mercédès (Carmen) at Central City Opera. Ms. Dills-DeSurra hails from Petaluma, CA and is an alumnus of Roosevelt CCPA (MM) and USC (BM).
Sean Cawelti graduated from UC Irvine with honors in Directing and studied puppetry at Tisch School of the Arts at NYU. Sean is the founding Artistic Director of Rogue Artists Ensemble a multi-media, puppet and mask company and was the Center Theater Group’s 2015 Sherwood Award recipient.He has designed puppets, masks, props and video for theater, music videos, museums, concerts and arena shows including the Kanye West Yeezus tour. Sean is a member of IATSE United Scenic Artists Local USA829. www.seancawelti.com
David Martin Jacques returns to the Long Beach Opera as Lighting Designer for The Perfect American. David previously designed the lighting for LBO’s productions of Therese Raquin and The Fall of the House of Usher. Recent productions include: scenery and lighting for As One for the Brooklyn Academy of Music, lighting and projections for A Midsummer Night’s Dream for Palau de les Arts in Valencia, and scenery, lighting, and projections for The Ballad of Baby Doe for Central City Opera. The many companies that David has designed for include: Teatro alla Scala, The Royal Opera House, The English National Opera, Teatro la Fenice, The New Theatre of Tokyo, Hong Kong Opera, The Canadian Opera Company, Chicago Lyric Opera, and The Norwegian Opera Company. David will also be designing the lighting for the upcoming LBO world premier of The Invention of Morel. David teaches stage design at California State University Long Beach.
Work includes: Eurydice, The Finish National Theater; Macbeth, Volksbühne Am Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz; Uncle Vanya, Uppsala Stadsteater; The King Stag, The Shanghai Academy; 4:48 Psychosis, The Shanghai Dramatic Arts Center; The Seagull, City Theater of Reykjavik; Bambiland, Our Class, National Theater of Lithuania; The Ouroboros Trilogy; Boston. Zane is the resident designer for Company XIV, the New York based neo-baroque dance company. XIV productions fuse Baroque dance, opera, burlesque and circus acts. In 2014, Zane was nominated for a Drama Desk award for his design of Nutcracker Rouge.
Chloe Treat is a New York based director and choreographer. Born and raised in the great, if not occasionally problematic state of Texas; she directs and choreographs musicals, plays, operas, outdoor dance rituals and feminist westerns. Chloe’s work centers on the curation and creation of modern mythologies, and investigates theater’s relationship to communal imagination. Director: The Dead (Hangar Theatre), Blood Wedding (NESA), Ten Blocks on the Camino Real (Tisch), The Two Character Play (NESA). Choreographer: Lucia Di Lammermoor (Heartbeat Opera), The Good Swimmer (The Prototype Festival), All’s Well That Ends Well (Shakespeare on the Sound), Daphnis and Chloe (Heartbeat Opera). Assistant/Associate: Natasha Pierre and The Great Comet of 1812 (Broadway/A.R.T), Amelie (Berkeley Repertory Theatre), Heisenberg (Broadway/Manhattan Theatre Club), Buyer and Cellar (Barrow Street Theater), The Fairy Tale Lives of Russian Girls (Yale Repertory Theater).