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The Perfect American

By Spank The Monkey

The Perfect American

I don’t go to many first nights at the opera. As I settled into my seat at the Coliseum for the UK premiere of Philip Glass’ The Perfect American, his new piece about the final days of Walt Disney’s life, I suddenly flashed back to a first night I attended twenty-five years ago. That was also at the Coliseum, and it was for another Philip Glass opera. The Making Of The Representative For Planet 8 was his adaptation of a Doris Lessing sci-fi novel, and I can remember precisely one thing about it.

Roughly three-quarters of the way through Planet 8, there was a brief pause in between sections. Outside, there was a sudden commotion, and a police car could be heard roaring down St Martin’s Lane, its siren NEE-NAW-NEE-NAWing at full volume like they used to back in the eighties. The orchestra paused, waited for the noise to die down, and then launched into the next part of the opera. This being Philip Glass, it started with a simple repeated bass figure on the strings, just a pair of notes separated by a minor third. It went nee-naw-nee-naw. The audience laugh that followed was extraordinary – a sudden burst of guffawing, which was just as suddenly truncated as everyone remembered that the composer of both of those notes was sitting in the room with them.

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