“Actually it is just problem-oriented education”, said Emese von Bóné about the project she established with theatre director Carla van Driel. The idea is simple. They take a famous opera and search it for murder, manslaughter, divorce and other legal issues. These are then worked out into a lawsuit, including lawyers, public prosecutor, clerk and judge. The legal cases are then incorporated into the opera. The students from Hofpleintheater do the singing, Von Bóné’s law students do the case.

Why did you want to rework an opera with students?

“The combination of law and opera has been a hobby of mine for a while. An average opera contains a huge number of legal elements. In Carmen alone there is an employment law dispute, attempted manslaughter and a murder case. This makes it very interesting material to work with for me as a legal historian. And it’s really educational for students.”

Schermafbeelding 2017-05-27 om 10.29.27

Dr. Emese von Bóné is legal historian at Erasmus School of Law (ESL). On 2 June, and together with theatre director, Carla van Driel and their students, she is presenting their own unique interpretation of Carmen, Bizet’s renowned opera about the tragic fate of a licentious predatory female. The performance will take place in the Hofpleintheater on Pieter de Hooghweg (the site of the foundation of the Netherlands School of Economics, one EUR’s predecessors). If you would like further information or would like to register for the performance, please visit the ESL website.

What is the average law student’s knowledge of opera?

“None of the students who participated in this project, and there are six, had ever seen an opera. We gave them the libretto in the Christmas holidays and said: tell us what you think this is about. What is interesting is: Carmen is murdered at the end of the piece by her ex, José. The students, after reading this story for the first time, all wanted José sentenced for life. But when we looked at the opera together, along with a crate of beer, they decided that he had been set up by Carmen. A really nasty person, they said. So they adjusted their verdict. That’s really good to see.”

What did they learn from this?

“They need to re-enact the entire case. That means you have to free yourself from the text and learn to move around. This is extremely valuable. Go and visit a courtroom. Most are standing there like statues reading a text; it’s so boring you fall asleep. We are also taking the students out of their comfort zone. A good lawyer or public prosecutor is capable of looking further than just the legal context. For example, if you have a divorce case, it’s really handy if you don’t just limit yourself to your own field, but that you can also include psychological and social insights.”

A good lawyer or public prosecutor is capable of looking further than just the legal context.

Emese von Bóné

Should this become a compulsory component of the study of law?

“Yes, of course I think it should. My colleague, Jeanne Gaakeer, is doing something similar with the Law and Literature course. But in the end it is up to the faculty. The Dean supports this project. And I received a really enthusiastic email from the Rector. I think the university has a responsibility to offer students a cultural education. If I succeed in offering young people something new in this area, then I’ve achieved my goal.”

Can your students actually sing?

“They can hum along to some arias. But we left the singing to the Hofpleintheater students. We’ve introduced the law students to opera and the Hofplein students really enjoyed getting involved with the legal aspects. In this sense, we killed two birds with one stone.”