Athena Sings: Wagner and the Greeks
Published: September 2003© 2003
Imprint: University of Toronto Press
Page Count: 80 Pages
Dimensions: 5.60 x 8.60
80 Pages, 5.60 x 8.60 x 0.70 in
Richard Wagner's knowledge of and passion for Greek drama was so profound that for Friedrich Nietzsche, Wagner was Aeschylus come alive again. Surprisingly little has been written about the pervasive influence of classical Greece on the quintessentially German master. In this elegant and masterfully argued book, renowned opera critic Father Owen Lee describes for the contemporary reader what it might have been like to witness a dramatic performance of Aeschylus in the theatre of Dionysus in Athens in the fifth century B.C. - something that Wagner himself undertook to do on several occasions, imagining a performance of The Oresteia in his mind, reading it aloud to his friends, providing his own commentary, and relating the Greek classic drama to his own romantic view.
Father Lee also uses Wagner's writings on Greece and entries from his wife's diaries to cast new light on Tristan und Isolde, Die Meistersinger, Parsifal, and especially the mighty Ring cycle, where Wagner made extensive use of Greek elements to give structural unity and dramatic credibility to his Nordic and Germanic myths. No opera fan, argues Father Lee, can really understand Wagner saving Brünhilde without knowing the Athena who, in Greek drama, first brought justice to Athens.
Written with a clarity and depth of knowledge that have characterized all Father Lee's books on the classics of Greece and Rome and made his six other volumes of opera bestsellers, Athena Sings traces the profound influence - an influence few music lovers are aware of - that Greek theatre and culture had on the most German of composers and his revolutionary musical dramas.
'For lovers of Wagnerian opera, the pleasure of reading this book will be intense and lingering. It affected me powerfully and I may never be able to listen to Wagner's operas in quite the same way. Father Lee has truly excelled himself.'Ross S. Kilpatrick, Professor Emeritus of Classics, Queen's University
'In Athena Sings, Father Lee brings his vast classical knowledge to bear on Wagner with the grace and wit of an engaging and illuminating teacher. Only a master classicist and a formidable Wagnerian like Lee could make us not only see but hear the Oresteia in the Ring. I enjoyed the book immensely.'Linda Hutcheon, Professor of English, University of Toronto