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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 6, No. 5

Book Review / Critique de livre

by Eric Legault / February 1, 2001

Version française...

In his latest book, Father Owen Lee writes in depth on twenty-two operas and two Broadway musicals, from Monteverdi's Orfeo to Rodgers and Hammerstein's Oklahoma. Each chapter is based on his articles and lectures originally written for opera magazines and Metropolitan Opera radio broadcasts over the last 30 years. Not surprisingly, the focus is quite varied from one essay to the next. Whether praising the music's originality in Orfeo ed Euridice and L'elisir d'amore, drawing parallels between Wagner and Cola di Rienzo (the historical subject of his opera Rienzi), or revealing hidden subtleties in the libretto of Il trovatore, the author gives each work its proper due, especially those he feels were dismissed unfairly by critics. Some chapters are just overflowing with ideas: In The Music of Intuitive Angels: The Magic Flutey´ he discusses, among other things, the opera's literary sources and similarities to various mythologies, the characters' Jungian dualities, the battles between Freemason Enlightenment and the Counter-Reformation, and even the latest findings on Mozart's death and burial. All within 12 pages!

But all is not rosy in Operaland. In the last chapter, Lee criticizes some trends in 20th-century opera: "Berg and Schönberg's cerebral, astringent, ear-wearying twelve-tone system, it is by now clear, was no substitute for the less intellectualized musical traditions of the past. Nor were the other musical styles, stubbornly academic, that followed."He also points out the political hypocrisy in American operas. Ending on an optimistic note, he proposes Ariadne auf Naxos as "the most significant and in many ways the best opera of the century."He suggests that if opera itself is to survive as an art form, it must continually evolve, without discarding its better inventions. And evolution—especially when steered by Love—is precisely what Strauss's opera is all about.

As a writer, teacher, and popular lecturer, Lee inspires his readers and listeners to pave their own road to erudition. For that purpose, he provides a list of recommended recordings and videos and a short but smart list of "Further Readings,"which unfoitunately does not include any of the hundred or so non-operatic classics mentioned throughout the book. A Season of Opera is a must for all opera enthusiasts, along with its two predecessors, Wagner's Ring: Turning the Sky Round and First Intermissions. n

M. Owen Lee.: A Season of Opera,
from Orpheus to Ariadne
University of Toronto Press 1998, paperback edition 2000, 241 pages
N.D.L.R. Cet ouvrage est maintenant disponible en français. Editor's Note: This book is now available in French.

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