8 years ago

Volume 13 - Issue 6 - March 2008

Book Shelfby Pamela

Book Shelfby Pamela Marg/esFable, fact and fantasy ... & the blurry lines betweenWagner and the Wonder of Art:an introduction to Die Meistersingerby M. Owen LeeUniversity of Toronto Press148 pages, .95For many years,Father Owen Leehas been wellknownto millionsof opera loversaround the worldthrough his commentariesduringMetropolitan Operabroadcasts, and hisappearances on theopera quiz. At thesame time he hasbeen teaching Classicsat the University of Toronto, where he isnow Professor Emeritus.The title of his latest book comes from aradio commentary which went on-air duringthe first Metropolitan Opera broadcast following9/11.In a chapter called Controversies, Leeexamines the charge that Wagner's operas,and Die Meistersinger in particular, have anundercurrent of anti-Semitism, especially inthe opera's treatment of the characterBeckmesser. Lee is hardly denying Wagner' sodious anti-Semitism. On the contrary, one ofhis many books on Wagner is called Wagner:The Terrible Man and His Truthful Art. Buthe insists that Wagner's anti-Semitism is notcoded into the opera. He writes, "I submitthat Wagner, not in spite of, but because ofhis failed human nature , expresses humanity'sneeds and hopes more compellingly thanany other composer for the stage. "The main section of the book offers alecture on Die Meistersinger which was usedfor program notes at Bayreuth. Lee shows thepoetic richness of Wagner's libretto, and theemotional depth of the music. Fittingly, hereveals, when speaking of the wise poetcobbler,Hans Sachs, "I am more moved byDie Meistersinger than by any other operabecause Sachs is what I would like to be. "It's also great to have Father Lee's lists ofhis favourite C Ds and DVDs. The generousendnotes offer fascinating facts and amusingreferences to Oscar Hammerstein and PerryComo.The appearance of this book leaves mehoping for a sequel to Father Lee's wonderfulmemoir, A Book of Hours.70The Spanish Bowby Andromeda Romano-LaxHarcourt558 pages; .50Music lies at theheart of this firstnovel by AmericanjournalistAndromeda Romano-Lax."Thesound of hope andhumanity," shewrites, "has alwaysbeen thecello. "The title refersto a cello bowchosen by a youngSpanish boy from among his deceased father'sthings. As the boy, Feliu Delargo,becomes a renowned cellist, the author useshis bow to represent the power of music.Romano-Lax is an accomplished writerwho has created an engaging storyline. Itfollows Delargo's unsettled life as he movesfrom place to place studying, giving concerts,and dodging civil war, all the while guardinghis cello bow.Romano-Lax creates vibrant characters.But many are allowed to simply disappear,such as the most interesting personality in thisnovel , Delargo's disillusioned but inspiringcello teacher Alberto. Problems arise whenRomano-Lax identifies her fictional characterswith actual historical figures. The narrator,Delargo, is modelled on the legendarySpanish cellist Pablo Casals. His colleague,Justo Al-Cerraz is given some attributes ofthe Spanish pianist and composer Isaac Albeniz,who in reality was a close friend ofCasals. But Romano-Lax fails to make thelikenesses convincing.When historical characters like Elgar, deFalla, Picasso, Franco and Goebbels areintroduced into the story, the overlap of factand fiction becomes disconcerting. In thecase of Casals' momentous discovery of theBach cello suites, which he describes in hisautobiography, the actual story is more meaningfulthan Romano-Lax 's fabrication.High Hat, Trumpet and Rhythmby Mark MillerThe Mercury Press187 pages, .95 ~-------~In 1951 , whenAmerican jazzmusician ValaidaSnow made asomewhat disastrousappearanceat Massey Hallin Toronto, hercareer was approachingitsend. She was justforty-seven. But111 'l lll t ll lll lil!l l l llUshe had had anIU l l ll l\lextraordinarycareer. Her life, as Toronto jazz writerMark Miller describes in this biography, wasequally extraordinary.Once again, Miller finds gold in an obscurecorner of jazz history. With his stylishwriting and meticulous research, he leaves nodoubts that this remarkable woman should beknown - and heard.Snow gained prominence during the periodwhen jazz was coming into its own in the1920s, and Miller is especially good at settingthat stage. Willful, determined and independent,she led a colourful life as a singer, dancer,and trumpeter and created a fabulouspresence on stage.Snow worked with some the top artists ofher day, including Earl Hines and EubieBlake. "Hers were the instincts of a jazzmusician, not merely a well trained instrnmentalist," writes Miller. Above all, Milleris determined to establish her genuineachievements and find her a meaningful placein jazz history.That must be why Miller comes down sohard on Snow for her many deceptions aboutthe facts of her own life . He discovers, forinstance, that her stories about escaping froma Nazi concentration camp in Denmark, afterbeing imprisoned, beaten and starved foreighteen months, were lies, although she washeld briefly.While more photos would certainly bewelcome, the endnotes, discography, andindex all enhance this fascinating book .Book Shelf is a regular feature of The Whole Note.Past columns can be viewed at and the writercan be reached by e-mail at or by mailclo WholeNote Media Inc., 503-720 Bathurst Street, Toronto ON MSS 2R4.See page 6 for further Whole Note contact information.WWW. THEWHO LENOTE.COM M ARCH 1 - APRIL 7 2008

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