Scalia/Ginsburg

American comic opera in one act
by Derrick Wang • Libretto by the composer

inspired by the opinions of U.S. Supreme Court Justices
Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia

and by the “operatic precedent” of
Händel, Mozart, Rossini, Bellini, Verdi, Offenbach, Bizet, Sullivan, Puccini, Strauss, et al.

Illustration by Jeff Dionise / ABA Journal

Illustration by Jeff Dionise / ABA Journal


Contents

  • Introduction
  • Backstory
  • The World Premiere (Castleton Festival, 2015)
  • The Revised Version (Glimmerglass Festival, 2017)
  • Press
  • The Libretto
  • Production History
  • More Information

Rathbun Visiting Fellow 2017, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, shares the background of Derrick Wang’s opera Scalia/Ginsburg while in conversation with The Rev. Professor Jane Shaw, Dean for Religious Life, on February 6, 2017 in Stanford Memorial Church.


Could we please make it a constitutional requirement that no one can be sworn into office in the White House or Congress without having first seen Scalia/Ginsburg?
— Los Angeles Times

Introduction

Scalia/Ginsburg is an American comic opera by composer-librettist Derrick Wang, inspired by the unlikely friendship of two U.S. Supreme Court Justices: Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia.

Scalia/Ginsburg asks the question: What would happen if these ideologically opposed judges had to appear before a Higher Power? 

Scalia/Ginsburg received its world premiere production in 2015 at the Castleton Festival, founded by renowned conductor Lorin Maazel. Derrick Wang’s libretto [script] to the opera was published by the Columbia Journal of Law and the Arts in 2015. In 2016, excerpts from the libretto were published as a chapter in Justice Ginsburg’s book My Own Words.

Scalia/Ginsburg received its sold-out second production in 2017, in a revised version at The Glimmerglass Festival, the second-largest summer opera festival in the United States. Acclaimed tenor William Burden, celebrated for originating lead roles in major American operas, sang the role of Scalia.

Watch MSNBC’s 90-second introduction to Scalia/Ginsburg:



Backstory

On June 27, 2013, the day after the Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Windsor, composer-librettist Derrick Wang appeared at the Supreme Court to present selections from his new comic opera, Scalia/Ginsburg.

National Public Radio’s Nina Totenberg, who was in attendance, has the story here:

In his TEDxBroadway talk, Derrick Wang shares his journey with Scalia/Ginsburg from the Supreme Court to the stage:

After being launched at the Supreme Court, excerpts from Scalia/Ginsburg were presented at the Washington National OperaGlimmerglass FestivalCastleton FestivalMaryland Opera StudioNational Constitution Center, Second Circuit Judicial Conference (co-sponsored by Columbia Law School, with artists from Opera Saratoga), and Stanford Arts Institute & Stanford Law School.


The World Premiere
(Castleton Festival, 2015)

In July 2015, the world premiere production of Scalia/Ginsburg took place at the Castleton Festival, founded by renowned conductor Lorin Maazel in Castleton, Virginia.

Scalia/Ginsburg’s fusion of law and opera was hailed as:

(MSNBC reports that Justice Ginsburg attended and said, “I had a wonderful time. I loved every minute of it.”)


The Revised Version
(Glimmerglass Festival, 2017)

In August 2017, Scalia/Ginsburg received its sold-out second production in a revised version at The Glimmerglass Festival, the second-largest summer opera festival in the United States. Acclaimed tenor William Burden, celebrated for originating lead roles in major American operas, sang the role of Scalia. The final performance was followed by a Q&A with U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

The Wall Street Journal praised the “engaging” opera’s “musical wit.” Opera Today called Scalia/Ginsburg “enchanting” and “a perfect…jewel.”

Press

Scalia/Ginsburg has been featured extensively in worldwide media, including:

and articles and interviews in outlets including: 

Scalia/Ginsburg has also been a featured topic on the ABC TV program Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?.


The Libretto

A 2015 version of the libretto [script] of Scalia/Ginsburg was published in the Columbia Journal of Law & the Arts, with prefaces by Justices Ginsburg and Scalia themselves. In the spirit of “operatic precedent,” the libretto contains over 200 footnotes by composer-librettist Derrick Wang to legal and musical sources.

In 2016, excerpts from the libretto were published as a chapter in Justice Ginsburg’s book My Own Words. Derrick Wang narrates and performs an adapted version of this chapter in the audiobook.

The libretto was revised for the 2017 production of Scalia/Ginsburg at The Glimmerglass Festival.


The Justices are blind!
How can they possibly spout this?
The Constitution says absolutely nothing about this!
— Justice Scalia’s opening aria from Scalia/Ginsburg
You are searching in vain for a bright-line solution
To a problem that isn’t so easy to solve,
But the beautiful thing about our Constitution
Is that, like our society, it can evolve.
— Justice Ginsburg’s aria from Scalia/Ginsburg

Production History

The Glimmerglass Festival (2017)

August 4 & 13 | 2017
Alice Busch Opera Theater [Mainstage] 
The Glimmerglass Festival
7300 State Highway 80, Cooperstown, NY 13326

Cast

  • Justice Ginsburg — Mary Beth Nelson
  • Justice Scalia — William Burden, Artist in Residence
  • The Commentator — Brent Michael Smith

Production

  • Conductor — Jesse Leong
  • Director — Brenna Corner
  • Scenery — James F. Rotondo III
  • Costumes — Sophie S. Schneider
  • Lighting — Peter Mitchell and S. Stolnack
  • Pianist/Principal Coach — Kyle Naig
  • Stage Manager — Dustin West

World Premiere: Castleton Festival (2015)

July 11, 17, 19 | 2015
Festival Theatre, Castleton Festival
7 Castleton Meadows Lane, Castleton, VA 22716

Cast

  • Justice Ginsburg — Ellen Wieser
  • Justice Scalia — John Overholt
  • The Commentator — Adam Cioffari

Production

  • Conductor — Salvatore Percacciolo
  • Stage Director — Maria Tucci
  • Scenic Designer — Julia Noulin-Mérat
  • Lighting Designer — Tláloc López-Watermann
  • Costume Designer — Lara de Bruijn
  • Wig & Makeup Designer — Kellen Easen
  • Stage Manager — Joan Llaneza
  • Assistant Stage Manager — Danielle Ranno

Other

Listings refer to presentations of excerpts (unless otherwise specified).

  • Supreme Court of the United States (June 2013)
    • Justice Ginsburg — Kimberly Christie
    • Justice Scalia — Peter Scott Drackley
  • Maryland Opera Studio (reading, Feb. 2014)
    • Justice Ginsburg — Suzanne Karpov
    • Justice Scalia — Logan Webber
    • The Commentator — Ethan Lee Greene
  • Washington National Opera (April 2014)
    • Justice Ginsburg — Jacqueline Echols
    • Justice Scalia — Patrick O’Halloran
    • The Commentator — Wei Wu
  • National Constitution Center (private event, April 2014)
  • Second Circuit Judicial Conference (co-sponsored by Columbia Law School, with artists from Opera Saratoga) (June 2014)
    • Justice Ginsburg — Jacquelyn Matava
    • Justice Scalia — George Ross Somerville
  • Castleton Festival (June 2014)
    • Justice Ginsburg — Jessica Blau
    • Justice Scalia — John Overholt
  • Glimmerglass Festival (July 2014)
    • Justice Ginsburg — Jacqueline Echols
  • Stanford Arts Institute & Stanford Law School (May 2015)
    • Justice Ginsburg — Suzanne Karpov
    • Justice Scalia — Peter Scott Drackley
  • Judicial–Congressional Dialogue at the Library of Congress (December 2017)
    • Justice Ginsburg — Mary Beth Nelson
    • Justice Scalia — Peter Scott Drackley

Get the inside scoop on Derrick Wang's new opera Scalia/Ginsburg from Justice Ginsburg herself! #OperaConf

Posted by OPERA America on Wednesday, May 13, 2015

More Information

Plot

What happens when Supreme Court justices go before a Higher Power? In this comic opera, Justices Ginsburg and Scalia must pass through three cosmic trials to secure their freedom. The catch: they may have to agree on the Constitution. Derrick Wang’s Scalia/Ginsburg is a valentine to law and opera, where the law’s leading players go toe-to-toe and trill-to-trill in a (gentle) parody of operatic proportions. Opinions will be offered. Dissents will be delivered. And justice will be sung.

Style

A buddy comedy with an operatic twist, Scalia/Ginsburg reflects the witty style of its subjects by applying the novel technique of “operatic precedent.” Just as a court opinion analyzes previous cases to develop a new decision, the score of Scalia/Ginsburg revels in references to beloved operas, transforming them into new and effervescent commentaries on music and law.

Audience

By presenting current legal issues in a concise and entertaining manner, Scalia/Ginsburg aims to reach new audiences for opera. Moreover, by dramatizing the friendship of two justices with (frequently) opposing viewpoints, Scalia/Ginsburg aims to encourage nuanced discussion of issues faced by the Supreme Court. Furthermore, through its playful reference to famous operas of the past, Scalia/Ginsburg appeals to frequent and first-time operagoers alike. 

Specifications
(for Opera, Theater, and Concert Producers)

Genre — Comic opera
Acts — One act
Duration — ca. 60 min.* 
Cast — 3 principals; no chorus

  • Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, soprano (or high mezzo-soprano)
  • Justice Antonin Scalia, tenor
  • The Commentator, bass-baritone

Language – English
Orchestra – 2.2.2.2/2.2.3.0/timp.perc.pno.hp./str.**  

*Depending on audience reactions. 
**Standard wind doublings.


“Supreme Court opinions”
on Scalia/Ginsburg

It was wonderful.
— Antonin Scalia
We both loved it.
— Ruth Bader Ginsburg
I liked it very much.
— Stephen G. Breyer