Father M. Owen Lee-how to describe him?
Professor of Classics at St. Michael's College, University of Toronto.
Baseball enthusiast. Film buff. Author.
Teacher. Metropolitan Opera broadcast shining light for many years.
Don't miss his books.
With Father Lee's permission I'm posting his remarks made on October 15, 1996
at a testimonial dinner for Edward Downes held at the Metropolitan Opera House.
This is from Father Lee:
Some of you here will know the sense of panic that takes over just before you go on the air with the Opera Quiz. After fourteen years of intermission appearances, I still ask myself, when that moment of silence descends on List Hall and we are poised to start, "Why am I doing this?"
Then I'd hear the voice long known to opera lovers across the length and breadth of the United States, Canada, and now Europe. Instantly recognizable. Part university dean, part kindly father. Wise as Sarastro though not so low in timbre. Warm as Hans Sachs but without the Weltschmerz. Sparkling as champagne in Fledermaus. No need to be unnerved. Edward Downes, the son of Olin Downes (who mastered the quiz when I first tuned in fifty five years ago) is seated professionally at a side table, with a stack of questions beside his microphone. The face that matches the familiar voice is positively beaming good will. He will see that everyone has a good time and no one comes to grief. And once you've answered the first question, the crisis is past.
I think I can say, without too much embarrassment, that I love this man. This wise and humble man who--one time when I was fogged in in Toronto and had sat up all night sleepless on a bus to get to New York and when, after two tough intermissions was on the brink of collapse--he took me up Broadway to his home in the Dakota, cooked me a meal, poured out the manzanilla (he likes Carmen), and started me on a stimulating exchange about our mutual enthusiasm, Wagner, and only then, when I was properly relaxed, sent me back to my hotel for a good night's sleep.
I want to tell you a story about the Dakota, where Mr. Downes lives at the very top, just above Yoko Ono, who can look from her window down on the strawberry fields she planted in memory of her husband, John Lennon, in Central Park.
When the Lennons wanted to move into the Dakota, the management told them that they first had to have a recommendation from someone already in residence. So the world famous Beatle phoned Mr. Downes and said, "We're musicians, too. Do you think you could recommend us?"
Mr. Downes explained, "Well, I'm not really acquainted with your work. But why don't you come over next Tuesday? We can meet, have tea, and perhaps then I can recommend you."
The Lennons said they would, and Mr. Downes promptly phoned his niece, of the newer generation, and said, "Dear, there are two young musicians coming to see me, and I'd feel much more comfortable with them if you were here and poured tea."
"Of course, Uncle Edward" came the reply. "Who are they?"
" I think he said his name was Lennon."
All the niece could say was, with some disappointment at her uncle's innocence, "Oh, Uncle Edward!"
The nicest thing about this story is that Mr. Downes told it about himself.
Thanks, Edward for teaching me to see deeply into operas I thought I knew. Thanks for your kindness, your wisdom, your wit, your encouragement, your professionalism, your love of music and of all good things. God bless you, and speed your new career on the broadcasts, for we sill have much to learn from you.
Fr. Owen Lee
October 15, 1996