Philip Glass is one of those composers that I have had my ups and downs with over the years. So when I recently discovered that Glass has been commissioned by New York City Opera to compose an opera that imagines the final months in the life of Walt Disney, I was both confused and intrigued all at once. The opera will be based on The Perfect American, a recent novel by Peter Stephan Jungk. The story is about a fictional Austrian cartoonist who worked for Disney in the 1940s-50s who recounts the story of the legendary founder of The Walt Disney Co.
The premise of the opera sounds very intriguing. However, I am rather curious about Glass composing the opera. There is no doubt that Glass has written some amazing works. In particular, I have enjoyed the music he has written for films such as Kundun, Notes On A Scandal, and Secret Window. I also really enjoy his Violin Concerto and some of his piano music. On the other hand, I have also heard material that is mundane and fails to deliver. Glass is one of those composers that is considered “required listening” when attending music school. So I had my fair share of being forced to listen to his music and the dreadful first opera, Einstein on the Beach. I know it broke the concepts and molds of what opera stood for as a genre, but just getting past the first 15 minutes is nauseating.
Glass will certainly draw an audience, but his minimalistic compositional style may not be a good choice for bringing to life Walt Disney. What might have been a more interesting choice is selecting the likes of John Adams, John Corigliano or Michael Daugherty – all American composers, each with distinct styles of composition. Of course, George Crumb would likely compose something really interesting, but it may not be as accessible for a typical American audience. Oh well, I guess we will all find out soon enough how this all turns out.
The new opera will open City Opera’s 2012-2013 season and honor the composer’s 75th birthday, City Opera’s incoming General Manager Gerard Mortier announced Monday.