Ruth Bader Ginsburg well earned the sobriquet “Notorious.” Everything about her seemed to live in happy contradiction. She followed her mother’s “dueling” advice: always to be a lady and to live a life of independence. She sparred almost daily with her more conservative “constitutionalist” colleague on the Supreme Court, Antonin Scalia, yet considered him a dear friend and convivial dinner partner. Perhaps most surprisingly of all, her legal mind was forever being sharpened against caving to sentimentality and yet she unabashedly adored opera, where music and emotion join in equal measure.
I met her first at a Washington National Opera opening night at the Kennedy Center’s Opera House. My date that evening was my dear artistic colleague, John Boulanger, and someone who sang for several years in the WNO Chorus. At the time, John also served as an IT consultant for the Supreme Court Justices. As we were sitting on the aisle, Ginsburg stopped when she saw him, and he kindly introduced me as a director of opera and other forms of music-theatre. She was genuinely interested and said she would come to see our work before moving down and taking her seat. Thereafter I would see her at every WNO opening, and almost always during the last few years her entrance was met with appreciative applause.
A few years later I was somewhat “summoned” to the Supreme Court. It turned out to be John’s wedding to his beloved partner Tony (Antonio Pedrero), and the presider was none other than “the little Justice.” When it came to the pronouncement, the entire room held their breath. What would she say? She spoke firmly, with distinction, and with just the right amount of dramatic pause, “By the power invested in me… and the con-sti-tu-tion… I pronounce you – married!”
Over several years in the summers, I would also see her join “the Glimmerglass family” just outside of Cooperstown, New York. She came not just as a spectator but a valuable presenter, drawing in crowds of people who thoroughly relished her talks about the legal premises in opera plots. Although she was a traditionalist in her love of the operatic canon, she clearly yearned to have fewer consumptive heroines and more of the strong independent female agents such as Leonore in Fidelio. She certainly enjoyed being the heroine in Scalia/Ginsburg an opera about her professional relationship with Antonin Scalia.
Ginsburg was a loyal and enthusiastic supporter of certain companies and clearly had a special fondness and respect for Francesca Zambello and her vision. (Please read Zambello’s in-depth tribute to this American hero and opera lover.)
In her last appearances on the stage at Glimmerglass, RBG was almost always heralded by the gathered audience with a standing ovation. When asked in the Q&As following her presentations, “How was her health?” and “Was she considering retirement?” she would always state firmly, “I’m not going anywhere.”
The universe obviously had other plans. The Notorious RBG. Ever Glorious. Rest in Power.