Sunday, September 3, 2017

Justice at the Opera

"Justice at the Opera” there could not be a better title for this once in a life-time experience.


Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg curated 90 minutes of arias from various operas relating to justice and the law at the Lensic Performing Arts Center with wonderful apprentice singers from the Santa Fe Opera.

For those not seriously interested in opera, it may not be well known, but Justice Ginsberg’s love of opera is legendary. She has been coming to Santa Fe for the opera season a very long time. In fact she told the Washington Post that she, “considers the Santa Fe Opera the finest summer opera company in the world.”

It has also been commented upon that until his death Justice Scalia, her archrival on the Supreme Court, would accompany her since, regarding opera, at least, there was a certain meeting of the minds.

Justices Ginsberg and Scalia last year

I am going to take a liberty here and I hope my readers, and most of all our favorite Supreme Court Justice, will forgive me, but in order to save space and not repeat Justice Ginsberg 10 more times, I will refer to her as others have, as RBG.  This is not the first time that RBG has done this program. In 2013 the New York Times reported on Justice at the Opera at the Glimmerglass Opera Festival in Cooperstown, New York and earlier this year the Washington Post had an article about a program similar to the one in Santa Fe at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C.

The late afternoon performance started with introductions by the Executive Director of the Lensic, Joel Aalberts, welcoming the audience for this momentous occasion and introducing Charles MacKay, retiring General Director of the Santa Fe Opera to this joint benefit.  Both received energetic applause and cheers.  But when Mr. MacKay introduced Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg saying that she was Ambassador at Large for the Opera and must never retire from the court, everyone in the sold-out theatre rose to their feet and would not stop applauding and cheering.  It was most heartening.  When the Justice finally calmed the audience she quoted Justice O’Brian’s two favorite responses,  “Thank you and thank you again” and adding her own “Mille Grazie”.

RBG’s props were a podium and an armchair in an exaggerated Louis XV style, lent by the Santa Fe Opera, where she sat in rapt attention after making the introduction to each scene.  There were eight selections from famous operas. Justice Ginsberg’s commentary explained what was happening in the opera itself as well as some juicy tidbits from the law.    The first scene was a quartet from Verdi’s “Falstaff” and RBG explained that it was about mail fraud since two women received the exact same love letter from a suitor who was actually after their husband’s money.  She explained with mock seriousness how this had been responsible for a U.S. law regarding mail fraud.


With the aria from Puccinis’s “Tosca” where the hero anticipates the Firing Squad, the Justice mentioned that some in this country sentenced to death, who have been averse to the needle, have asked for a firing squad instead, but so far all have been denied.

In L’elisir d’Amore by  Donizetti during the quartet from Act II RBG was asked to notarize the  the contract. She rose to the podium to do so and the singer held it out to the audience for all to see.  These antics and comments added zest and laughter to the afternoon!

The most moving piece and only one that one felt quite convinced RBG had insisted on was from the opera, “Appomattox” by Philip Glass, a composer I do not care for.   The emotional aspect of the piece, however, cannot be denied. Terrence Chin-Loy, an African-American tenor who is also a wonderful actor, recounted the “Colfax Massacre” on Easter Sunday of 1873 in Colfax, Louisiana, where over a hundred black militiamen were cut down by white supremacists upset to see the freed “colored people”.

When a Supreme Court Justice, who sits on a  pedestal as the idol of many, joins the rest of us in a cultural experience, it gives one an exceptional feeling of belonging and edification.

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