Classical music, which I'd always appreciated but never been a huge fan of, just clicked for me very recently. It was that sudden; I woke up one morning and I loved it (not that it supplanted rap music in my tastes--no worries there, nothing ever will) and I began to search voraciously for it--opera especially. I quickly turned to Wagner because the storytelling of mid-to-late 19th century classical appealed to me, and because damn it I like epic fantasy! My girlfriend and I watched DVDs of the Ring Cycle expecting big, bombastic fantasy melodrama with pretty music and came away with one of the most beautiful and psychologically nuanced pieces of art we'd ever experienced (like all the best epic fantasy). I am hooked now, and no matter how many other composers I explore, I keep coming back to Wagner (and I could care less what a dick the man was in real life).
So, I heard this was a very good set of commentaries on the Ring Cycle, especially for a beginner, and took it out the library. I must say that I did not expect to finish it in one day (and it'd not like reading it was the only thing I did today either), but it was something a pleasant surprise, because this kind of analysis can get bogged down if it stretches out too much. All in all it reminded me a great deal of things that I read in college: a lot of rather thickly laid-on analysis, huge margins, and relatively large type. So it's a quick read, which is good because nothing gets stale, and Lee's voice is a good one.
It's hard to say how worthwhile this book would be to people who have already been glutted on Wagner scholarship, but for me it was immensely enjoyable. Certainly, there were things in it I already knew, but the ideas were much more fleshed out than where I had come across them before (ahem, Wikipedia mostly). Lee points out musical correlations that I hadn't caught, even in my many listens, and suggests correlations that I hadn't thought of, all while also addressing some of the things that I had considered quite directly, which at least let me know that we were on the same track. It's hard to get more specific, but I'll just say that he mostly focused on philosophy, myth, and psychology: obviously amongst the major themes of the Ring Cycle. (If anyone knows of someone who really digs into gender and family, regarding the Cycle, I would love to know about it.)
He gets a little overblown near the end (which I think is a necessity for this kind of writing), but for the most part stays mercifully relaxed (and not "hey kids, I'm the cool teacher, FUCK YEAH WAGNER!!" either). He brings up Star Wars, and 2001: A Space Odyssey, evolution, and makes up a fictitious fifth opera for the cycle, and just generally seems to be enjoying his damn self, which gets infectious. At times he gets hard to follow if you can't read music, but it's really a pretty small part of enjoying the larger whole.
In the end, an enjoyable piece of academic writing for those interested in the subject, but probably not the deepest examination ever (not that it's meant to be, these were originally commentaries done on the radio at intermission-time). A good starting place, with well-written lists of further readings and recordings for those who want to delve deeper. I don't know that I have a well-trained enough ear to hear much variation in different recordings, but I will definitely read more.