Opera Opens Door to Soul,
Says Renowned Critic
April 6, 1998
egardless of a person's faith or profession or economic status, opera has the ability to deeply affect and even change the course of any life, said The Rev. M. Owen Lee, C.S.B., a popular contributor to the Metropolitan Opera's live radio broadcasts.
Speaking at The Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C., he explained that Catholic professors, Protestant ministers, Jewish doctors, devout Buddhists and people of no faith have told him that opera is a source of moral wisdom. "It was opera that helped them see into their problems, and solve them," he said.
" Music is relevant, not just to other learning and the other arts, but to life itself," Lee said. "The great works of music, like the classics of literature, mean different things to people as they make their way through life."
There is no doubt about the importance of opera and music to Lee, who began his attachment to the art at age 11. "As Bernard Shaw once said, 'You use a glass mirror to see your face, and you use works of art to see your soul,' he said.
Noting that the music students at Catholic University's Benjamin T. Rome School of Music will soon perform La Boheme, he said the opera about four Bohemians sharing an attic in La Boheme remind him of college boys he has taught. "The story shows us the aspiring writer, painter, philosopher and composer learning about life, love, suffering and death. ... The boys must learn from Bohemian life and move own, before it destroys them. ..."
Lee, who was on campus to receive a honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree for his contributions to music, also discussed what it is like to be on the famous Metropolitan Opera quiz:
"You take your seat at a table ... and with your fellow panelists, warm up with a few easy questions, like 'Who Wrote Wagner's Tannhäuser? And you're not sure you know the answer to that question!"
Lee is an eminent Latinist, but his most outstanding achievements are in the area of opera criticism. He is known for his knowledge of opera history and for his for relating opera to the permanent questions of the human condition: good and evil, life and death, joy and sorrow.
He is the author of more than 200 publications and is completing his 10th book, A Season of Opera: From Orpheus to Ariädne, to be published later this year.
The Benjamin T. Rome School of Music is the only university music school in the nation's capital. The school offers degree programs at all levels and sponsors more than 300 concerts and recitals annually.
Graduates are found in every major orchestra in the United States and work throughout the world as performers, music educators, liturgical musicians and arts administrators. Two university undergraduates recently finished in first and second place in the Metropolitan Opera regional competition. Alumni include internationally known tenor John Aler, winner of two Grammy awards, and soprano Harolyn Blackwell, a Metropolitan Opera principal.
The school houses The Summer Opera Theatre Company and hosts the Washington Suzuki Institute each year. The Division of Musical Arts, a preparatory and continuing education division, provides extensive music instruction for children and adults.
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