Opera celebrates friendship of Scalia and Ginsburg ’54

The Cornell Jeb E. Brooks School of Public Policy will present “Scalia/Ginsburg,” a one-act comedic opera about the unlikely friendship between U.S. Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg ’54 and Antonin Scalia, on Sept. 23 at 7 p.m. in the Memorial Room of Willard Straight Hall.

Tickets went on sale Aug. 1 and can be purchased here.

“Scalia/Ginsburg,” presented in partnership with Opera Ithaca, is one of numerous universitywide events in the coming year that will explore freedom of expression and academic freedom under the theme “The Indispensable Condition: Freedom of Expression at Cornell.”

The late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg ’54, along with Justice Antonin Scalia, will be the subject of a one-act comedic opera, “Scalia/Ginsburg,” presented as part of the Biennial Cornell Brooks School Program, which honors the legacies of Ginsburg and her late husband, Martin Ginsburg ’53.

“The deep and remarkable friendship of Justices Ginsburg and Scalia endured across decades of what Justice Ginsburg herself called ‘frequently dueling opinions,’” President Martha E. Pollack said. “That friendship is at the core of ‘Scalia/Ginsburg’: an important, timely and delightful demonstration of the kind of civil discourse, commitment to shared values and respect for difference that we hope to strengthen this year at Cornell.”

Pollack; Ginsburg’s granddaughter, Clara Spera, a lecturer at Harvard Law School; and Colleen L. Barry, dean of the Brooks School, will deliver remarks before the performance.

The opera is the first event of a new biennial program from the Brooks School honoring the legacy of Ginsburg and her husband, Martin Ginsburg ’53, who met at Cornell as undergraduates on a blind date in 1950. The program will highlight the policy issues that were important to Justice Ginsburg and will feature opera, music and other forms of bridge-building artistic expression that were her passion.

The Biennial Cornell Brooks School Program, honoring the legacies of Martin Ginsburg ’53 and Ruth Bader Ginsburg ’54, is supported by Christie and Jeff Weiss ’79.

“I am grateful to Christie and Jeff for their gift to the Brooks School,” Barry said. “Their vision for dynamic programs which bring to life policy issues important to the late Justice Ginsburg, while honoring her love of the arts, will benefit generations of Cornellians. We chose the ‘Scalia/Ginsburg opera’ for the program’s first year to illuminate the justices’ mutual respect for each other even though they often differed in their views.

“This opera is a way for us to demonstrate the Brooks School’s commitment to civil discourse and civic engagement – which are critical to developing creative solutions for the pressing public policy challenges we face today,” Barry said.

“Scalia/Ginsburg,” which premiered in 2015, was written by Derrick Wang, who described the work as “what happens when Supreme Court justices go before a Higher Power? … Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia face a series of trials as they grapple with their opposing views, legal legacies and unlikely friendship. Opinions will be offered. Dissents will be delivered. And justice will be sung.”

In addition to being close friends who vacationed and often celebrated holidays together, despite their very different ideologies, Justices Ginsburg and Scalia were both great fans of opera.

In a preface to the published libretto, Ginsburg wrote: “Scalia/Ginsburg is for me a dream come true. If I could choose the talent I would most like to have, it would be a glorious voice. I would be a great diva, perhaps Renata Tebaldi or Beverly Sills or, in the mezzo range, Marilyn Horne. But my grade school music teacher, with brutal honesty, rated me a sparrow, not a robin. I was told to mouth the words, never to sing them. Even so, I grew up with a passion for opera, though I sing only in the shower, and in my dreams.”

The production will be directed by Ben Robinson and conducted by Danielle Jagelski, and will feature Rachel Schutz as Ginsburg, Chad Kranak as Scalia and Jean Bernard Cerin as the commentator.

“We feel privileged and delighted to honor the memory of our dear friends Marty and Ruth Ginsburg through this gift to Cornell’s Brooks School,” Christie and Jeff Weiss said. “Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Cornell legacy will live on through these programs, which unite her remarkable legal career, generosity and immense love for the arts and humanities.”

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Lindsey Knewstub