A Supreme chorus: Chautauqua Opera opens season with ‘scalia/ginsburg’


From left to right, Chauncey Packer, as Justice Antonin Scalia, Michael Colman, as The Commentator, and Kelly Guerra, as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg during a dress rehearsal for the Chautauqua Opera Company’s production of Scalia/Ginsburg on Wednesday July 7, 2021 in the Performance Pavilion. KRISTEN TRIPLETT/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia famously had a very close friendship, despite being on opposite sides of the political spectrum.

They did have some similarities, though. 

They both had birthdays in March, making their astrological signs Pisces. They were both New York natives. Ginsburg was born and raised in Brooklyn, while Scalia was born in New Jersey and raised in Queens. They both served on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

However, one of their common interests brought them closer than any statute in the Constitution ever could: their mutual love of opera. 

Chautauqua Opera Company’s first production of the season, Scalia/Ginsburg: An Opera by Derrick Wang, explores this complex relationship in American history. It opens at 4 p.m. Friday, July 9 at the Performance Pavilion on Pratt. 

Creating the Supreme Court on stage is a tall order, but Scenic Designer Efren Delgadillo Jr. was up for the challenge.

“It’s really just surrounding yourself with research,” Delgadillo said. “All the answers are in the research, either it’d be literature or images. And then you just got to try things out. Before this digital age, I would just go through so many ink cartridges, because I would just print, print, print, print everything and have a big old board of images. Now I create websites, so I scroll through all the images that I’ve collected and absorb it that way.” 

Chauncey Packer, the Chautauqua Opera Guest Artist portraying Justice Antonin Scalia, grew up disagreeing with many of the justice’s viewpoints, but through Packer’s research, learned to have respect for his character. 

“It’s been neat to learn of him as a principled man — not just as what I knew, or what I thought I knew about him,” Packer said. “It’s nice to learn about him as a person and still study him as a man, and as a character, and know where those ideas came from. And I find more similarities with him than I ever knew I had by studying this role.”

For instance, toward the end of Scalia’s life, he had a very weak heart. He had torn his rotator cuff and could not be operated on because of his heart issues. Knowing this gave Packer an impression of Scalia’s strength.

“I make so many assumptions about who a person is and how they live their life, but that’s a lot of strength as a person to keep going despite what (their) physical limitations are,” Packer said.

It’s nice to learn about (Scalia) as a person and still study him as a man, and as a character, and know where those ideas came from. And I find more similarities with him than I ever knew I had by studying this role.”

– Chauncey Packer,
Guest Artist,
Chautauqua Opera Company

Chautauqua Opera Young Artist Michael Colman, who is portraying The Commentator again after appearing in Opera Carolina and Opera Grand Rapids’ productions of the show, said that the friendship between Scalia and Ginsburg is an important example of dialogue across the aisle.

“For them to be on opposite sides of the political spectrum, but to recognize that this other person is principled, and intelligent, and disagrees with me — they don’t demonize each other,” Colman said. “I think that requires some humility — to say you disagree with me, and you are (also) principled and intelligent, and we can be friends.”

Tags : 2021antonin scaliaChautauqua Opera Companyoperaruth bader ginsburgscalia/ginsburgSupreme Court
David Kwiatkowski

The author David Kwiatkowski