Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Favorite Opera Recordings (and Her First Appearance in an Opera)

U.S. Supreme Court jus­tice Ruth Bad­er Ginsburg’s death has thrown an unbear­ably fraught polit­i­cal year into fur­ther dis­ar­ray, a fact that has sad­ly over­shad­owed memo­ri­al­iza­tion of her inspir­ing life and career. Gins­burg was a per­son­al hero for mil­lions of activists and students—from grade school to law school; an icon casu­al­ly iden­ti­fied by her ini­tials by those who felt like they knew her. “For many women, and many girls,” Sheryl Gay Stol­berg writes in a New York Times trib­ute, her loss is “deeply per­son­al.”

How should we remem­ber such a fig­ure at such a time? If you hap­pen to find the news numb­ing, full of ener­vat­ing ran­cor and alarm…. If you want to bring the focus back to the per­son we have lost, might we sug­gest a sound­track? The sug­ges­tions come from Gins­burg her­self, from the art form—opera—closest to her heart. “She was our great­est advo­cate and our great­est spokesper­son,” says Francesca Zam­bel­lo, direc­tor of the Wash­ing­ton Nation­al Opera, “the ide­al attendee… who knows every­thing but is open to inter­pre­ta­tions.”

Ginsburg’s com­mit­ment to the opera spans decades. She and her hus­band Mar­ty were in the audi­ence when Leon­tyne Price made her debut at the Met in 1961. Forty-sev­en years lat­er, the Jus­tice had occa­sion to hon­or Pryce at a 2008 Nation­al Endow­ment for the Arts lun­cheon. Also in atten­dance: Antonin Scalia, Ginsburg’s noto­ri­ous rival. The only thing the two may have agreed on was a pas­sion for the opera. It formed the basis of a frag­ile peace, and the sub­ject of its own opera, Scalia v. Gins­burg, that explores extreme judi­cial dif­fer­ences through “Ver­di, Puc­ci­ni, Christ­mas car­ols, ‘The Star-Span­gled Ban­ner,’ and jazz.”

Scalia v. Gins­berg com­pos­er Der­rick Wang heard the grandios­i­ty of opera when he read the fierce­ly oppos­ing writ­ten opin­ions of the two jus­tices. It’s safe to assume that both were lis­ten­ing to their favorite works while they com­posed. In 2012, Gins­burg gave her list of favorites to Alex Ross at The New York­er, who points to oth­er Gins­burg con­nec­tions to the clas­si­cal world like her son, James Gins­burg, “pro­pri­etor of Cedille Records, an inde­pen­dent clas­si­cal label based in Chica­go.” (Read their state­ment on Ginsburg’s pass­ing here.)

There is far too much to say about Ruth Bad­er Ginsburg’s judi­cial influ­ence, and about the pow­er vac­u­um left behind by her loss. But if we want to under­stand what mat­tered to her most as an indi­vid­ual, we should turn to the music she most loved. “Her life was about under­stand­ing people’s sto­ries,” says Zam­bel­lo. The kinds of cas­es “she made her career of are the stuff of opera.” At the top, see Ginsburg’s first appear­ance onstage, in a non-singing role as the Duchess of Krak­en­thor­pe in the The Daugh­ter of the Reg­i­ment at the Kennedy Cen­ter. Just below, see her list of favorite works, pep­pered with occa­sion­al com­men­tary from the late, beloved R.B.G. her­self. This list orig­i­nal­ly comes from The New York­er. If you have a Spo­ti­fy account, you can stream the music in this 30-hour playlist.

Ver­di, “Aida”; Zin­ka Milanov, Jus­si Björ­ling, Leonard War­ren, Fedo­ra Bar­bi­eri, Boris Christoff, Jonel Per­lea con­duct­ing the Rome Opera Orches­tra and Cho­rus (RCA).

Ver­di, “Otel­lo”; Plá­ci­do Domin­go, Rena­ta Scot­to, Sher­rill Milnes, James Levine con­duct­ing the Nation­al Phil­har­mon­ic and Ambrosian Opera Cho­rus (RCA).

Dvořák, “Rusal­ka”; Renée Flem­ing, Ben Hep­p­n­er, Dolo­ra Zajick, Franz Hawla­ta, Charles Mack­er­ras con­duct­ing the Czech Phil­har­mon­ic and Kühn Mixed Choir (Dec­ca).

Han­del, “Julius Cae­sar”; Nor­man Trei­gle, Bev­er­ly Sills, Mau­reen For­rester, Bev­er­ly Wolff, Julius Rudel con­duct­ing the New York City Opera Orches­tra and Cho­rus (RCA).

Jus­tice Gins­burg com­ments: “Lis­tened to LP record­ing many times. Pro­duc­tion was Julius Rudel’s tri­umph, opened in the State The­atre the year the Met moved to Lin­coln Cen­ter. Met opened with the not at all tri­umphant pro­duc­tion of Barber’s ‘Antony and Cleopa­tra.’ Next, my two best-loved operas.”

Mozart, “Don Gio­van­ni”; Cesare Siepi, Fer­nan­do Core­na, Suzanne Dan­co, Lisa Del­la Casa, Anton Der­mo­ta, Hilde Gue­den, Wal­ter Berry, Kurt Böhme, Josef Krips con­duct­ing the Vien­na Phil­har­mon­ic and Vien­na State Opera Cho­rus (Dec­ca).

Mozart, “The Mar­riage of Figaro”; Samuel Ramey, Lucia Popp, Thomas Allen, Kiri Te Kanawa, Fred­er­i­ca von Stade, Kurt Moll, Robert Tear, Georg Solti con­duct­ing the Lon­don Phil­har­mon­ic and Lon­don Opera Cho­rus (Dec­ca).

Strauss, “Der Rosenkava­lier”; Elis­a­beth Schwarzkopf, Christa Lud­wig, Tere­sa Stich-Ran­dall, Otto Edel­mann, Eber­hard Wächter, Lju­ba Welitsch, Nico­lai Ged­da, Her­bert von Kara­jan con­duct­ing the Phil­har­mo­nia Orches­tra and Cho­rus (EMI).

Tchaikovsky, “Eugene One­gin”; Thomas Allen, Mirella Freni, Neil Shicoff, Anne Sofie von Otter, James Levine con­duct­ing the Dres­den Staatskapelle and Leipzig Radio Cho­rus (DG).

Puc­ci­ni, “Tosca”; Maria Callas, Giuseppe Di Ste­fano, Tito Gob­bi, Vic­tor de Saba­ta con­duct­ing the La Scala orches­tra and cho­rus (EMI).

Menot­ti, “The Medi­um”; Joyce Cas­tle, Patrice Michaels, Lawrence Rapchak con­duct­ing the Chica­go Opera The­atre (Cedille).

Kur­ka, “The Good Sol­dier Schweik”; Jason Collins, Marc Embree, Kel­li Har­ring­ton, Buffy Bag­gott, Alexan­der Platt con­duct­ing the Chica­go Opera The­atre (Cedille).

Jus­tice Gins­burg com­ments: “Glim­mer­glass Opera lat­er mount­ed ‘Schweik’ with per­fect-for-the-part Antho­ny Dean Grif­fey.”

Stravin­sky, “The Rake’s Progress”; Philip Lan­gridge, Samuel Ramey, Cathryn Pope, Stafford Dean, Sarah Walk­er, John Dob­son, Astrid Var­nay, Ric­car­do Chail­ly con­duct­ing the Lon­don Sin­foni­et­ta and Cho­rus (Dec­ca).

Brit­ten, “Bil­ly Budd”; Nathan Gunn, Ian Bostridge, Gidon Saks, Daniel Hard­ing con­duct­ing the Lon­don Sym­pho­ny Orches­tra and Cho­rus (Vir­gin Clas­sics).

Jus­tice Gins­burg com­ments: “Two Lieder record­ings I now and then play when work­ing at home: **Schu­bert, ‘An mein Herz,’ with Matthias Goerne; and songs by Brahms, with Ange­li­ka Kirch­schlager.”

via The New York­er

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Acclaimed Ruth Bad­er Gins­burg Doc­u­men­tary, RBG, Air­ing Tonight on CNN

When Vladimir Nabokov Taught Ruth Bad­er Gins­burg, His Most Famous Stu­dent, To Care Deeply About Writ­ing

The Opera Data­base: Find Scores, Libret­ti & Syn­opses for Thou­sands of Operas Free Online

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

by | Permalink | Comments (0) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.