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RBG Takes the Opera Stage, to Discuss Justice

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. | Last updated on

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg made her opera debut last fall and she's already back for more.

This time, however, the Notorious RBG, a notorious opera aficionado, wasn't on stage to perform, but to speak. Last night, Justice Ginsburg starred in "Justice at the Opera" at the Kennedy Center Opera House on "justice, criminality and human rights as depicted in the opera."

Another Starring Role for RBG

The opera can seem a rarefied, distant art, the kind of thing that's beloved by a few but befuddling to most. But Justice Ginsburg's talk comes just as the Washington National Opera presents two highly relevant, contemporary works: "Dead Man Walking," an opera about the death penalty, and "Champion," an "opera in jazz" that tells the story of Emile Griffith, a gay, African-American boxing champ in the 1960's.

These two pieces set the context for Justice Ginsburg's discussion. The justice was joined by Francesca Zambello, Artistic Director of the WNO who moderated the event. And while we weren't able to attend in person, the evening with Justice Ginsburg certainly seems to have charmed the pants of Twitter.

Justice and the Opera

Speaking to NBC4's Barbara Harrison before the event, Justice Ginsburg pointed to several areas where the law and opera have informed, or at least overlapped, each other.

The classic "Carmen," for example, presents "the ultimate plea bargain," the justice says. That's "because here's Carmen and she is being carted off to jail and she negotiates a deal with Don José."

And then, of course, there's the opera dedicated to the Supreme Court justice herself. "Scalia/Ginsburg," the justice reminded Harrison, is based on her relationship with the late Justice Antonin Scalia, her good friend and regular ideological opponent. That opera features the two justices navigating "three cosmic trials" together, with direct quotes from their court opinions worked into the music.

"The libretto," Justice Ginsburg explains, "is trying to portray two people who have very different views on some very important things and yet genuinely like each other."

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