‘The Perfect American,’ controversial opera about Walt Disney, to get U.S. premiere at Long Beach

Visitors at the Magic Kingdom at Disneyland.
(Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times)

“The Perfect American,” the controversial Philip Glass opera that recounts the final months in the life of Walt Disney, will get its U.S. premiere next year — not by a major institution like the Metropolitan Opera or Los Angeles Opera, but by a small company with a reputation for taking artistic risks.

Long Beach Opera said that “The Perfect American” will be part of its 2017 season and is scheduled to run for two performances on March 12 and 18 at the Terrace Theater.

The opera had its world premiere in 2013 as a co-production between the Teatro Real in Madrid and the English National Opera in London.


Glass’ piece provoked heated words at the time from Diane Disney Miller, the eldest daughter of Disney. She told The Times that year that she was “disgusted and angry” with the depiction of her father and that nothing in the piece “has any basis in truth whatsoever.”

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Diane Disney Miller died in 2013 in Northern California at 79.

Glass said at the time that he thinks the opera serves the memory of Walt Disney “in an honest and interesting way.”

The minimalist composer said it wouldn’t be the end of the world if a smaller company presented its U.S. premiere. “Any production is an important one,” he said.

“The Perfect American,” adapted from a novel by Peter Stephan Jungk, depicts Walt Disney as a wildly eccentric man obsessed with death and cryonics, and a giant animatronic version of Abraham Lincoln.

He is also depicted as prejudiced against black people and opposed to organized labor.

Walt Disney died in 1966 at the age of 65, in a hospital in Burbank.

No other American opera company has produced “The Perfect American.” Some involved with the original production told The Times in 2013 that they thought that L.A. Opera would be a natural fit for the piece because the story is set mostly in the L.A. area.


L.A. Opera president Christopher Koelsch even traveled to Europe to see “The Perfect American,” but he later said that the company had no plans to produce it.

This isn’t the first time that Long Beach Opera has picked up a controversial piece that L.A. Opera has passed on.

In 2013, the Long Beach company produced John Adams’ “The Death of Klinghoffer,” a 1991 piece for which L.A. Opera was a co-commissioner but has yet to produce.

“The Perfect American” received mixed reviews when it debuted in 2013. It has also been produced in Australia.

The Long Beach Opera season will also include Henry Purcell’s “The Fairy Queen,” in collaboration with Musica Angelica; “As One,” by composer Laura Kaminsky; and “Frida,” the 1991 opera about the Mexican artist by Robert Xavier Rodriguez.


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