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Article Published: 09 Nov 2020

Ginsburg Memories

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg delivers a talk at The Glimmerglass Festival
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg delivers a talk at The Glimmerglass Festival (photo: Karli Cadel)

“I love it so. My heart beats with joyous anticipation when I know the opera is about to start. Everything else goes away and I am in the world in front of me.” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said this to me as we walked the Kennedy Center’s long Hall of Nations after the opening night reception of my 2015 production of Philip Glass’ opera Appomattox. Earlier, along with Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, Nancy Pelosi and I leaned in to hear RBG speak about the finer points of the opera and the importance of direction in “bringing grandness to beautiful, meaningful, and moving accessibility.” My head bobbed and lit up like a railroad lantern from her compliment.

I first met RBG in July 2002 at my Glimmerglass-directing-debut opening of my favorite opera, Dialogues of the Carmelites. As the opera approached the inevitable lead-up to the guillotine scene, a tremendous, terrifying lightning storm began to batter the metal roof of the opera house. The open walls, letting in cross ventilation, began to roll closed. As the Salve Regina halted, signaling the entrance of Blanche de la Force, the storm was over. After calls and kisses of congratulations behind “the curtain in,” I was introduced to RBG. Our fingers touched. We both received an electric shock. “Residue lightning,” RBG laughingly said. “It’s good luck. I’m sure I will see more of your work.”

Flower-bedecked steps of the Capitol have been swept. Candles snuffed out. Half-mast flags hoisted. The invisible tent of stillness draped in the other room is folded and gone. Wide and empty is the road of alone without irreplaceable you. Not sad anymore. We had you for a while. Now you are playing in the constellations with your friends: Tosca, Otello, Dido, Butterfly, Giovanni, Boris, Carmen, Violetta, Tamino, Musetta, Carlos, Lucia, Figaro, Aida, Rigoletto, Tristan, Kumalo, Blanche, Juliette, Isolde, Eugene, Salome, Elektra, Xerxes, Giulio, Canio... Dear RBG: We hear you!

This article was published in the Fall 2020 issue of Opera America Magazine.