Opera does jus­tice to court, Gins­burg says

The Washington Post Sunday - - MUSIC - BY GE­OFF EDGERS ge­off.edgers@wash­post.com

It sounds like a scene from an un­re­leased Kurt Von­negut novel: A con­ser­va­tive Supreme Court jus­tice, fum­ing af­ter los­ing a dra­matic de­bate on same-sex mar­riage, heads to a party and be­fore you can say “Sum­mer of Love,” has jumped into a sin­ga­long of Bob Dy­lan’s “The Times They Are A-Changin’.” ¶ Don’t be­lieve it? Well, she told us! ¶ “He sang with great verve,” Jus­tice Ruth Bader Gins­burg said of Jus­tice An­tonin Scalia in a phone in­ter­view with The Washington Post last week. ¶ “Nino,” as she calls him, is her philo­soph­i­cal op­po­site and great friend. And on Satur­day, Gins­burg planned to watch and lis­ten to their re­la­tion­ship played out on the stage at the Castle­ton Fes­ti­val in Vir­ginia at the world pre­miere of Derrick Wang’s one-act opera “Scalia/Gins­burg.” The piece, with re­peat per­for­mances Fri­day and next Sun­day, takes the words of the two ju­rists and sets them to mu­sic inspired by, among oth­ers, Mozart, Verdi and Strauss. That means “Scalia/Gins­burg” is likely the only li­bretto that makes ref­er­ence to Shelby County v.

Holder, the 2013 case that fo­cused on the con­sti­tu­tion­al­ity of key pro­vi­sions of the Vot­ing Rights Act of 1965, or in­cludes ref­er­ences to “60 Min­utes” in the foot­notes.

Q: Was there any hes­i­ta­tion to the idea of hav­ing your words — and your re­la­tion­ship with a col­league — brought onto the stage?

Gins­burg: Jus­tice Scalia’s re­sponse was, “It’s your First Amend­ment right.” I think I was a lit­tle bit more en­thu­si­as­tic about it than he was. I thought the idea of tak­ing the two of us and in­clud­ing this lovely duet to­ward the end — “We are dif­fer­ent. We are one.” — was a good one. So we start out with Scalia and his rage aria. “The jus­tices are out of line, how can they pos­si­bly spout this?” And then I tell him the great thing about our Con­sti­tu­tion.

And he sees your view?

What it says is what we have in com­mon. That we re­vere the court and we want to do our best and leave it in a good state. You might get the im­pres­sion that there’s a great deal of ten­sion on the court, but we all gen­er­ally like each other.

So you will be there, but he won’t?

He’s in Rome. He also didn’t go to see the play [“The Orig­i­nal­ist,” which fea­tured a char­ac­ter based on Scalia, this past spring] at the Arena Stage.

Did you talk to him about it?

Did you sug­gest he go?

He felt un­com­fort­able be­cause cer­tain peo­ple would no­tice if he showed up.

But you don’t have the same reser­va­tion in go­ing to an opera based on you?

No reser­va­tion at all. I’m very glad they’re do­ing it. I have seen snip­pets of it. I’d say that Derrick Wang, he is a very tal­ented young man, very clever. And as you know from his pub­li­ca­tion, he has doc­u­mented al­most ev­ery line in the script. I think it’s quite funny.

Are you gen­er­ally a fan of con­tem­po­rary opera?

I go to tra­di­tional opera, con- tem­po­rary opera, all the opera that I can see. Af­ter Castle­ton, I’ll go to Glim­mer­glass. I’ll go to Santa Fe. In Septem­ber, I will be in Zurich, Switzer­land, for the open­ing of their opera.

Did you have a chance to see “Klinghof­fer,” which, as we know, was so con­tro­ver­sial when it played at the Met?

I thought it was, first of all, mis­portrayed. It’s not anti-Semitic. I think peo­ple who made that ac­cu­sa­tion have not seen the opera. Open­ing night, in the first act, there were a few dis­rup­tions, and then in the sec­ond act, from the open­ing cur­tain to the end, there wasn’t any dis­tur­bance be­cause the char­ac­ters — Klinghof­fer and his wife — come across as so sym­pa­thetic. Tears were com­ing down my eyes. And Klinghof­fer is por­trayed as some­body you would re­ally like, some­body with a sense of hu­mor. I think there was vast misun­der­stand­ing.

What do you hope will come out of “Scalia/Gins­burg?”

I just hope peo­ple will have a good time and that they get a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing about the court and how well we work to­gether. We’re not like Congress at the mo­ment, so di­vided there’s no con­ver­sa­tion pos­si­ble. That’s the mes­sage that you get at the end of it.

It is quite an honor, isn’t it?

Some of my fem­i­nist friends say, “How did you al­low it to be ‘Scalia/Gins­burg’?” I said, “In this shop, se­nior­ity re­ally counts.” Even though I’m two years older than Nino, he was ap­pointed in the ’80s and I was ap­pointed in 1993. He is se­nior, and he goes first.


Supreme Court Jus­tice Ruth Bader Gins­burg says she has “no reser­va­tion at all” in go­ing to see “Scalia/Gins­burg,” Der­rick­Wang’s one-act comic opera inspired by the opin­ions of Gins­burg and Jus­tice An­tonin Scalia, her philo­soph­i­cal op­po­site and great friend.

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