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.
Scalia/Ginsburg is a one-act American comic opera by composer-librettist Derrick Wang about the power of friendship in a divided world.
Inspired by the unlikely friendship of U.S. Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia, Scalia/Ginsburg asks the question: What would happen if these two ideologically opposed judges had to appear before a Higher Power?
Launched at a special presentation at the Supreme Court of the United States in 2013, Scalia/Ginsburg received its world premiere production in 2015 at renowned conductor Lorin Maazel’s Castleton Festival, followed by a sold-out second production in 2017 on The Glimmerglass Festival’s mainstage starring acclaimed tenor William Burden.
Justices Ginsburg and Scalia wrote prefaces to Derrick Wang’s libretto [script], which was published in 2015 by the Columbia Journal of Law and the Arts. Excerpts from the libretto are republished in Justice Ginsburg’s 2016 book My Own Words as the chapter “The Scalia/Ginsburg Opera,” the audiobook version of which is narrated and performed by the composer-librettist from New York’s Steinway Hall. In 2018, the premiere recording of the aria “You Are Searching in Vain for a Bright-Line Solution” was released on the Cedille Records album Notorious RBG in Song.
“A perfect…jewel” (Opera Today)
“Brilliant…gorgeous” (DC Theatre Scene)
“Funny, exceedingly clever” (Above the Law)
“A cheerful piece with a deeply serious core” (Süddeutsche Zeitung)
“Laser-accurate…top-notch” (Classical Voice North America)
“Engaging…plays cleverly [with] musical wit” (Wall Street Journal)
“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)
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.
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 refers to previous cases to develop a new decision, the score of Scalia/Ginsburg revels in references to beloved operas, transforming them into a mosaic of commentaries on music and law.
By exploring current national 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 encourages audiences to consider perspectives different from their own. Furthermore, through its accessible musical style, which playfully alludes to famous operas of the past, Scalia/Ginsburg appeals to frequent and first-time operagoers alike.
Genre — Comedy
Acts — One act
Language — English
Duration — ca. 60 min. [2017 version]
Cast — 3 principals; no chorus
Suggested pairing for a full evening:
Trial by Jury (Gilbert & Sullivan)
Duration: ca. 40 min.
Setting: The Court of the Exchequer.
Duration: ca. 60 min.
Setting: Somewhere in the Supreme Court of the United States.
To inquire about a license to produce Scalia/Ginsburg, visit the Contact page and complete the form “I want to produce ‘Scalia/Ginsburg’”.
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.
After being launched at the Supreme Court, excerpts from Scalia/Ginsburg were presented at the Washington National Opera, Glimmerglass Festival, Castleton Festival, Maryland Opera Studio, National Constitution Center, Second Circuit Judicial Conference (co-sponsored by Columbia Law School, with artists from Opera Saratoga), and Stanford Arts Institute & Stanford Law School.
For more information, listen to Nina Totenberg’s coverage of the Supreme Court presentation — and see Derrick Wang’s TEDxBroadway talk on his journey with Scalia/Ginsburg from the Supreme Court to the stage.
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.”)
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.” Leonard J. Lehrman, writing for New Music Connoisseur, stated: “Scalia/Ginsburg is a triumph of both citation and original, musical synthesis.”
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?.
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.
August 4 & 13 | 2017
Alice Busch Opera Theater [Mainstage]
The Glimmerglass Festival
7300 State Highway 80, Cooperstown, NY 13326
July 11, 17, 19 | 2015
Festival Theatre, Castleton Festival
7 Castleton Meadows Lane, Castleton, VA 22716
Listings refer to presentations of excerpts (unless otherwise specified).