Friday, July 30, 2010

Defamation, Lohengrin, and the Rhodes Scholar

Lohengrin, one of Wagner's early operas, tells the story of a knight in shining armor who appears mysteriously to defend and protect the weak and vulnerable Elsa against defamatory accusations.  See the connection to this blog?  Oddly, I fell in love with the opera when I was 12 years old.  It seems that I have always had a concern with defamatory accusations.

Note the parallels between the character of Lohengrin ("You have defended the right of the meek") and the qualities sought in the Rhodes Scholar: Truth, courage, devotion to duty, sympathy for and protection of the weak, kindliness, unselfishness and fellowship; moral force of character and instincts to lead, and to take an interest in one’s fellow beings.

Speaking metaphorically, I pray for a Rhodes Scholar who will come to my defense!

In August 1987 I worked at the law firm of Hogan & Hartson.  I mentioned to my friend Craig W. Dye, a coworker, that the only German I knew I had gleaned from listening to the Wagner operas.  Craig replied: "So your German is only good for doing things like rescuing maidens in distress."  A moment of uncanniness.

King Henry the Fowler has arrived in Brabant where he has assembled the German tribes in order to expel the Hungarians from his dominions. He also needs to settle a dispute involving the disappearence of the child-Duke Gottfried of Brabant. The Duke's guardian, Count Friedrich von Telramund, has accused the Duke's sister, Elsa, of murdering her brother. He calls upon the King to punish Elsa and to make him, Telramund, the new Duke of Brabant.

The King calls for Elsa to answer Telramund's accusation. She enters, surrounded by her attendants. Knowing herself to be innocent, she declares that she will submit to God's judgment through ordeal by combat. Telramund, a strong and seasoned warrior, agrees enthusiastically. When the King asks who shall be her champion, Elsa describes a knight she has beheld in her dreams (Narrative: "Alone in dark days") and sinks to her knees, praying for God to send her relief.

Twice the Herald sounds the horn in summons, without response. Then Elsa herself makes the call. A boat drawn by a swan appears on the river and in it stands a knight in shining armour. He disembarks and dismisses the swan, respectfully greets the king, and asks Elsa if she will have him as her champion. Elsa kneels in front of him and places her honour in his keeping. He asks but one thing in return for his service: she is never to ask him his name or where he has come from. Elsa agrees to this.

Telramund's people advise him to withdraw because he cannot prevail against magic, but he proudly refuses and the combat area is prepared. The company prays to the one "Herr und Gott" for victory for the one whose cause is just. Telramund's wife, Ortrud, a pagan woman, does not join the prayer of the monotheists, but privately expresses confidence that Telramund will win. The combat commences. The unknown knight defeats Telramund but spares his life. Taking Elsa by the hand, he declares her innocent and asks for her hand in marriage. The crowd exits, cheering and celebrating, and Ortrud and Telramund are left to lament their defeat.


Gary Freedman said...

The YouTube excerpt from Act I of Lohengrin is from the opening day of the Bayreuth Festival, which began on Sunday July 25, 2010. German Chancellor Angela Merkel was in attendance.

Gary Freedman said...

Both David Kendall and former Pres. Clinton, whom Kendall represented, were Rhodes Scholars:

As they say, "Rhodes Scholars, Rhodes Scholars who need Rhodes Scholars are the luckiest Rhodes Scholars in the world!"

Gary Freedman said...

Lohengrin marries Elsa in Act III but deserts her when, just after the wedding, she ask him what his name and origin is. The condition of the marriage was that Elsa never ask Lohengrin those questions.

Lohengrin could truthfully say: "I never had sex with that woman!"

Gary Freedman said...

E. James Lieberman, M.D., a local Washington, D.C. psychiatrist wrote a book about the psychoanalyst Otto Rank titled: Acts of Will: The Life and Work of Otto Rank.

Otto Rank had written his Ph.D. thesis at the University of Vienna on the Lohengrin myth.