Feb. 28, 2014 – Professor Jacqueline Weaver – opera buff and legal scholar – brought her two passions together recently in a lively panel discussion of the legal subtext dramatized in Richard Wagner’s world of gods and dragons in his four-opera “Ring” cycle.
The Feb. 25 discussion, “Justice and Valhalla,” was co-sponsored by Houston Grand Opera which is producing the first opera in the series, Das Rheingold, April 11 – 26. Wagnerian opera and serious law seem like an odd combination, but not so, said HGO Assistant Artistic Director Mena Mark Hanna.
“When Wagner started writing the operas he was suspicious of a society that was highly contractual,” Hanna said. “In fact the setting up of contracts and the breaking of them creates a chain reaction of events that carries throughout the four operas.” In Das Rheingold, it is unclear who owns the gold that is stolen from the Rhine River and made into a magic ring that allows the bearer to rule the world.
“I spoke on who might own the gold under various theories of property ownership, and also on Wagner's theme of how nature and love are sacrificed in exchange for wealth and power in a way that brings about the gods' self-destruction,” said Weaver, A.A. White Professor of Law and interim director of the Environment, Energy & Natural Resources Center at the University of Houston Law Center. A season subscriber to Houston Grand Opera since 1972, Weaver concluded that the gold did not belong to any of the characters. Rather it was the property of the river itself, as an embodiment of the beauty of Nature, although Albrecht the dwarf could claim the Ring because he had reworked the raw gold into such a distinct product.
Justice Michael Massengale of the First Court of Appeals of Texas gamely took on the question of contract enforcement, and Bellaire Attorney Miles Smith shared his perspective on Wagner’s philosophy, as colored by the writings of George Bernard Shaw.
The event was co-sponsored by the firm of Norton Rose Fulbright and held in the auditorium of Fulbright Tower.