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A Century of Springtime With Stravinsky

What he did not have was a clear sense of the visual components that could accompany his music. His few staged works have been successful from a visual perspective largely for the visual artist's ability to grok Stravinsky. Never the other way around.

Here again, Stravinsky showed a great wisdom by sticking with collaborators that he could trust, George Balanchine in particular. Otherwise, he steered clear of staged works or created strict limitations for how the visual aspect could be interpreted.

But in at least one other instance, the collaboration proved rocky: Walt Disney's fanciful reinterpretation of The Rite excerpts in the movie Fantasia. Stravinsky agreed to the project but was furious with the results and sued the cartoonist. (He lost.) Disney had thrown away Stravinsky's primitive, violent ritual and replaced it with dinosaurs -- kid-friendly but still violent, expressive of the destructive powers of natural regeneration.

Stravinsky didn't think Disney perfectly captured the mood of the music, even if that meant rearranging some of its parts. Within the context of the film, Stravinsky's music was well-represented.

Ironically, one of the major premieres this year that could possibly approach The Rite's impact (but won't) is an opera about Walt Disney. The Perfect American is an opera by Philip Glass based on a book by Peter Stephan Jungk that examines the flaws as well as the polished facets in the character of the entertainment empire founder. Reviews are mixed, but few expected anything like Stravinsky's early genius or even the robust innovation of Glass's early work.

Originally scheduled for a premiere at the New York City Opera, The Perfect American has instead opened in Madrid, another victim of the crumbling financial infrastructure of American classical music.

(EDITOR'S NOTE: Watch the world premiere of Glass' "The Perfect American" at the Teatro Real de Madrid.)

The consistent failure of funding and the generally conservative nature of audiences has meant that, at least here, The Rite of Spring is still the most daring work many U.S. concertgoers will ever hear.

That notoriety almost certainly won't last another century. But serious challengers so far are few.

-- Written by Carlton Wilkinson in Asbury Park, N.J.
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