operatic baritone Justin Ryan plays the title role of Walt
Disney in Phillip Glass' award-winning opera "The Perfect
American." Courtesy Photo
The U.S. debut of Phillip Glass' award-winning opera "The Perfect
American" featured Osage operatic baritone Justin Ryan in the title
role of Walt Disney. Ryan, who is known for his strong and dramatic
tone, reached a new level in his career with the performance.
The two-hour and 25-minute opera, first performed in Madrid,
Spain, in 2013 after the New York City Opera declined due to financial
concerns, debuted in the U.S. It debuted in Long Beach, Calif.,
in the 3,000-plus-seat Terrace Theater of the Long Beach Convention
& Entertainment Center. Ryan's parents and Osage relatives were
The opera is based on Peter Stephan Jungk's novel, "The Perfect
American," which imagines the last months of Walt Disney's life
from the view of a fired cartoonist who worked for Disney. It portrays
Disney as less-than-perfect and losing his grip on reality before
he succumbed to lung cancer in 1966.
To prep to play Walt Disney, Ryan read biographies and watched
any source footage he could get his hands on. He watched old films
of Disney and studied his movements and how he talked. He also watched
and studied the PBS program American Experience on Walt Disney,
a two-part special on his life and legacy"The prep for the character
is huge because it's a real person, and that makes it more important
to be accurate in your research," he said. "This is a fictional
account, so it's not a non-fictional presentation ... it's about
what Walt would have thought about in his last few months of life
facing lung cancer.
His next performance is in Chicago on April 22 and April 30
at the Chicago Opera Theatre.
Ryan is a seasoned performer. He performed with the New York
City Opera in 2016 as the painter Edward Hopper in Stewart Wallace's
surrealist opera, "Hopper's Wife." He performed the title role in
Wendy Taucher's new production of Rossini's "The Barber of Seville"
at Martha's Vineyard and the Connecticut Lyric Opera as Count Almaviva
in "Le Nozze di Figaro." In 2015, he performed with Opera Columbus,
Lancaster Opera, and the Mississippi Opera, according to his bio.
He also received his Bachelors and Master's degrees in vocal
performance from Stephen F. Austin State University.
His father, Jim Ryan (Osage) is a retired music teacher, working
musician and band leader living in San Antonio, Texas. He said music
has played a major role in the Revard family for over 150 years.
In the mid-19th century, their ancestor Joe Revard and his cousin
Peter Revard were the Parrish fiddlers at the French colony that
would later come to be known as Kansas City, he said. Franklin Revard
was a fiddler and dance caller for balls and dances in the Osage
through the turn of the 20th Century, he said. Jimmie Revard led
the popular western swing band, "The Oklahoma Playboys," in south
Texas in the 1930's. They also have Osage cousins living in the
Austin area, Dustin Welch and his sister Savannah, who are both
successful singers and songwriters.
"His voice was rich and warm and filled the large hall without
the use of microphones. His diction was perfect and as the opera
was sung in English, we could understand every word. What was most
compelling was his stage presence," said his father Jim. "I couldn't
record during the performance but after the curtain fell, I recorded
the standing ovation that Justin and the company members received
... It was a wonderful night."
Justin said the pressure of playing a character being seen and
heard for the first time to an American audience is something that
goes with the profession. He said there is pressure to represent
the work well, and new operas are expensive to produce. He also
knows that even if the initial reviews of the opera aren't that
great, the more and more they are performed, the greater they become.
"This is probably the highest profile job I've had. You can
look at my bio, I've sung in the Metropolitan Opera, Toledo, I had
my New York City Opera debut last spring, and that sort of compares
to this. The New York City Opera is obviously an important company,
so I think in a way that was my greatest job in terms of prestige
in level of house, this was the same, kind of that level," he said.
"People hear Phillip Glass and think 'modern opera' and it will
have a small orchestra. But, it isn't small, it's a grand opera
with a full 40-piece orchestra and it's just a great score ... objectively,
things are going very well and this is certainly full speed ahead."
For more information on the Chicago Opera Theatre performances
of "The Perfect American," visit http://www.chicagooperatheater.org/perfectamerican