A Season of Opera: From Orpheus to Ariadne

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9780802083876: A Season of Opera: From Orpheus to Ariadne

Father Owen Lee is internationally known for his intermission commentaries featured during the Saturday afternoon broadcasts from the Metropolitan Opera House in New York. A Season of Opera: From Orpheus to Ariadne gathers together for the first time Father Lee's best broadcast and cassette commentaries, public lectures, and articles on twenty-three works for the musical stage. The essays range from the pioneering Orpheus of Monteverdi to the forward-looking Ariadne of Richard Strauss.

Included are Father Lee's famous discussions of Mozart's Magic Flute and Beethoven's Fidelio, Verdi's La Traviata and Falstaff, Wagner's Tristan und Isolde, and Poulenc's Dialogues of the Carmelites. The concluding chapter, originally published as the lead article in The Opera Quarterly's special issue on the end of the twentieth century, is a thought-provoking forecast of opera's future. Recommendations for further reading, CD recordings, and videos are also included.

Opera Canada has applauded Father Lee's 'extraordinary ability to engage, challenge, and enlighten a vast and diverse audience' and called his learning-worn-lightly commentaries 'a unique mix of spiritual empathy, classical scholarship, and psychological insight.' Opera lovers, or anyone interested in psychology and mythology, humanities and comparative literature, or the art of the essay will welcome this book.

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Review:

Though he is a professor of classics at the University of Toronto, M. Owen Lee is far better known for the talks he gives during intermissions of live Saturday afternoon Metropolitan Opera broadcasts. One of his earlier books, First Intermissions, consisted almost exclusively of transcriptions of those talks. By contrast, A Season of Opera does contain a few "intermission features," but most of the chapters were originally written for the book or program books such as Opera Quarterly and Opera News. Lee takes advantage of the freedom to write about whatever he pleases: he devotes a chapter to the musical Oklahoma!, which he views as a model for the way to write American opera. A discussion of Porgy & Bess takes in the history of popular song, with particular insights into Jerome Kern and Show Boat. A long essay about Tristan und Isolde involves interesting relationships to Buddhism and Schopenhauer. But the best chapter comes last: winding his way to Ariadne auf Naxos, Lee touches on Virgil, Wagner, and both world wars before doubling back to Mozart. Some of the other essays are pitched lower and serve as general overviews, while a few sustain a lengthier, idiosyncratic view of a single opera. The Lucia di Lammermoor entry is almost entirely about Walt Whitman, and his essay on Aïda (not too successfully) is set before Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra. Since Lee is also a Catholic priest, his discussion of Poulenc's Dialogues des Carmelites is noteworthy. He captures something of the mysterious power of the piece and writes remarkably on the idea of grace. He is not afraid of a few minority opinions (including that Poulenc was "not a composer of great gifts" and that "The Magic Flute and Il Trovatore have two of the best librettos ever set to music"). The book includes 10 pages of recommended recordings; audio and video, with annotations; and a short list for further reading. --William R. Braun

From the Inside Flap:

'The breadth and depth of [Lee's] scholarship preclude [the chapters'] being an easy or quick read. They are, however, uniformly entertaining and deeply rewarding.'

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