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Finding Jung in Wagner’s ‘Ring’

Spending an afternoon of play-acting the characters in the opera they analyzed are Katya Spitznagel and her horse Maggie with Emily Beeson and mentor Paul Mazeroff.
April 08, 2014

Emily Beeson and Katya Spitznagel donned their Viking headdresses when they took the podium recently to present their Jungian analysis of Richard Wagner’s epic opera “Der Ring des Nibelungen” to Baltimore’s Jungian Working Group.

The freshman and sophomore had spent months researching Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung’s psychodynamic approach and archetypal images. They watched and studied the four operas that comprise the15-hour “Ring Cycle,” ever on the lookout for Jungian themes and symbols.

And one gray autumn afternoon, with mentor and Psychology senior lecturer Paul Mazeroff, they simply couldn’t resist gathering swords, horned helmets and Spitznagel’s horse Maggie and heading to the farm where Maggie boards for their own ride of the Valkyrie and bit of roleplaying in the Norse mythology that haunts the “Ring.”

Finding Jung in Wagner’s ‘Ring’

Although the Honors students found their research to be both engaging and entertaining, their three-hour presentation reflects an intensive scholarly endeavor for which they received independent-study credits. They were, after all, invited to present the result to a group of professional therapists well versed in Jung’s ideas.

Beeson, a French and Mathematics double major from Phoenix, Md., focused her lens on the archetypal themes of fate and destiny – particularly the law of unintended consequences where people do something that seems like a good idea but later discover their act has triggered events that are unintended and problematic.

Spitznagel zeroed in on love and power – the gold ring in the opera grants complete power and dominion but can only be obtained by denouncing love. A Psychology major from Parkton, Md., she also looked through a feminist perspective, suggesting the heroine Brunnhilde restored order to the world by refusing power and sacrificing herself for love.

“I love talking about female underdogs who rise up, raise hell and eventually restore balance,” she says of her presentation. “For me, this project is such a cool fusion of topics I’m interested in. I’ve always been into music – I sing and play harp and sax – and working with Dr. Mazeroff is always really fun.”

Her partner in research echoes her sentiments.

“I jumped at the opportunity,” says Beeson, adding that last semester her first-year seminar, “Close Encounters: Merging Worlds,” sharpened her understanding of Jungian themes of fate and destiny. “It took me a while to get a solid foundation in Jung and his ideas, but then the whole opera made sense. The symbols are universal and found in every culture.”

Mazeroff couldn’t be prouder of their accomplishment.

“It’s a real joy to work with such wonderful students,” he says. “Their presentations showed such thoughtful analyses and tremendous depth of thinking. They were fabulous and wowed the audience.”