My Perfect American

Here at A Younger Theatre we do our best to give opportunities for young people to experience culture for the first time. Building on our work with English National Opera last year, AYT and ENO teamed up again to take six AYT readers to their first ever opera. Was it all pomp and luxury? did our readers understand the opera? and more importantly, will they be returning? Read the responses below to find out.

Jason Imlach: “Opera is something I’d never thought I would show a keen interest in. It’s not the fact I shun opera as the upper-class snobbery facade of the theatre, it’s just a different theatre to the theatre I know and love. However, my trip to watch The Perfect American was an enjoyable learning curve; some parts of the experience showed a little of the stereotypical upper-class surroundings I was expecting (such as the Champagne bar stacked with alcohol whose net-worth is more than my own car), but you never felt out of place in this beautiful theatre. It was almightily welcoming, with ushers always kindly ushering you, and a fantastic pre-show talk that gave you insight to the show and the hard work that they put into it. The show itself was captivating and quite inspiring as a vocalist watching these opera masters blast out tremendous harmonies and sing terrifically. Overall, for me personally it was a very pleasant experience that I would love to revisit.”

Adam Dyster: “Imagining ‘the opera’, I stereotypically had imagined a posh, older audience, extravagantly dressed and sporting opera glasses, watching an eighteenth-century Italian melodrama of love and romance. What I instead found were people like myself watching an artistic exploration of Walt Disney, in English and with the most amazing illustrated set. If any part of my preconceptions were right, it was the grand opulence of the opera house, but I was pleased to find the atmosphere inside didn’t match its ostentation.  The opera itself, a modern work by Phillip Glass, was challenging in its style – this was indeed no jukebox musical, but rewardingly so. Its representation and imagery, from the dehumanisation of Disney’s employees to an owl of Walt’s nightmares symbolising mortality, were both complex and powerful. At the end of the night I found myself wanting to ask more questions, to think about what I had seen and, importantly, to explore more opera, which has showed itself to be far more deep than the stereotypes I first had.”

Victoria Beyai: “I may have been a Philip Glass Fan before I saw the English National Opera’s production of The Perfect American at London’s Coliseum but I’d never attended the opera and was unsure what to expect. The surroundings of the London Coliseum may have clearly been from another century but the atmosphere of the ENO Opera Undressed night was excited and keen to discover more about the show. With this in mind the pre-show Q&A provided a fantastic insight into the show’s context as well as demonstrating the work that goes into the show as the actors we had spoken were unrecognisable onstage with velvet suits and trailing wires. Before The Perfect American I had thought opera wasn’t for me (I struggle to brush my hair daily never mind looking well turned out) but my interest has been piqued by this atypical and modern opera and I’ll be sure to sample more!”

ENO Opera Undressed

Jessica Cheetham: The Perfect American certainly didn’t live up to any of my preconceptions about opera. I was expecting a love story with a swelling score and virtuoso singing. Whilst the stamina of the performers was impressive, I felt like The Perfect American engaged me more on an intellectual level than an emotional one. I would be very interested to see a classic romantic opera to see if my experience and connection with the work was different. The London Coliseum is a beautiful theatre; as I walked through the front doors I felt immediately transported into a quiet world of luxury. My impression is that opera is accessible to all ages in terms of being able to understand the action on stage, however older patrons might have different motivations for going to the theatre and therefore choose opera. Younger people often don’t earn enough to travel to the West End then buy an expensive ticket; potentially they are more likely to stay local and take a chance on a small-scale fringe show. Older people may like the prestige of a well-known opera and be scared to see something unconventional. You should switch the competition and bring an older audience to a pub theatre!”

Kelly Edwards: “This was my first experience of opera in any form so I was interested and slightly apprehensive about what my experience would be like. The venue was a typical beautiful West End venue with a lot of history, it was pretty big and had a champagne bar which i’m afraid immediately gave me the impression I wasn’t their usual clientele! The atmosphere was not the usual buzz I have previously felt at large theatre performances, perhaps somewhat due to the sombre tone of the piece to come. The audience was much as anticipated, mainly middle aged or older and smart looking so I did feel a little out of place. The opera itself was definitely an experience, it was very contemporary which I’m not sure worked well with the opera singing style as some of the emotion was lost and at times just seemed contrite, the set was amazing and ingenious but did overshadow the performance itself at times due to it’s complexity. I would definitely be interested in going to the opera again, although I had mixed feelings about The Perfect American I feel that some of it was because of how modern it was and I did enjoy parts, I would be interested to see some classical opera next time to see how that experience compares.”

Rachel May: “I’d been interested in seeing The Perfect American ever since the posters started appearing on the Underground. I’ve never seen an opera before, but I was interested in learning more of the life of the ironically imperfect Walt Disney, presented in a new way. The Coliseum is a beautiful building, and the theatre itself is amazing: there’re some lovely facades, and some foreboding chariots led by lions can be found above the stage. I was excited to be seeing the ENO Opera Undressed event, especially because the actors talk which preceded the opera was so useful to learn more, very insightful. The operatic style was very different to the plays I have seen performed previously, and I’d be interested in seeing more opera at the ENO in the future.”

Participants in A Night at the Opera attended English National Opera on its ENO Opera Undressed evening which gives ticket buyers the chance to experience opera at a reduced price, with pre-show discussion and post-show drinks. Find out more about ENO Opera Undressed.