Verdict is in: Opera’s ‘Scalia/Ginsburg’ continues run with bipartisan message


From left, Chautauqua Opera Company Young Artists Michael Colman and Kelly Guerra, and Guest Artist Chauncey Packer, rehearse for Chautauqua Opera’s production of Scalia/Ginsburg on July 7 in the Performance Pavilion on Pratt. KRISTEN TRIPLETT/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

In today’s politics, bipartisanship is hard to come by. That is why the friendship between Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsburg has been a source of fascination among modern historians.

Ginsburg was progressive in her rulings, believing that the Constitution could evolve over time. Scalia was a conservative originalist who was known for offering dissenting opinions on most of the cases presented to the court.

Scalia and Ginsburg have been a source for librettists as well. Chautauqua Opera Company’s production of Scalia/Ginsburg, an opera by Derrick Wang, continues its run at 4 p.m. Friday, July 23 at the Performance Pavilion on Pratt. 

Emily Jarrell Urbanek, the keyboardist accompanying the show and a coach for Chautauqua Opera, previously conducted it for Opera Carolina in Charlotte, so she has experience with what the score entails.

“I think when you study a score to conduct it, you think in a bigger picture kind of way,” Urbanek said. “It helped me in terms of transitions. There are a lot of sort of quick transitions that are a little complicated sometimes with a piece, and I was prepared for that, because I had thought about it before.”

The reduced orchestration of the show is similar to when she conducted it with Opera Carolina.

“I was also prepared for the fact that the keyboard parts in the orchestra covers a lot of different instruments, like sometimes harp, harpsichord, piano, organ, that kind of thing,” Urbanek said. “I knew to expect that, so that was helpful. But if you know what something’s supposed to sound like, and you can’t play it the way you would like to play it yet, it gets frustrating when you’re practicing it.”

I think it’s clever. I love the audience’s reaction to it. … I feel like in this day and time, that’s a really important message, to be able to agree to disagree and to talk about things respectfully to each other.”

Emily Jarrell Urbanek
Chautauqua Opera Company

The music also shows the differing temperaments of both Scalia and Ginsburg.

“Certainly Scalia’s aria is a very heartfelt aria,” Urbanek said. “It shows him really as a human being. … Both of Ruth’s arias are very cleverly written when she comes onto the scene, and even though she was physically a very tiny woman, her presence takes the stage.”

Urbanek believes there is something in Scalia/Ginsburg for fans of both history and opera.

“I think it’s clever,” Urbanek said. “I love the audience’s reaction to it, especially if they have knowledge of the Supreme Court, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Scalia and their personal relationship. I also think that it has a greater overall message that we can all live together and be civil, even if we disagree. I feel like in this day and time, that’s a really important message, to be able to agree to disagree and to talk about things respectfully to each other.”

Michael Baumgarten, lighting and video designer, was not phased by the Pavilion’s difficulties as an outdoor venue.

“The challenge is to make it bright enough and occasionally make a statement with what the lighting is trying to do. If the sun is brighter than it was the other day, it’s going to make the lighting look different,” Baumgarten said.

B.G. Fitzgerald, the costume designer, was able to use some of the costumes from previous productions of the show, including Ginsburg’s iconic jade earrings and pearl collar. When seeing the show, he enjoyed it so much that he laughed out loud.

“There are so many funny laughs in it,” Fitzgerald said. “I get all the musical laughs that Derrick (Wang) put in. In fact, I actually laughed out so loud that the setting and lighting designer had to shush me because it was so much fun.”

Tags : operaPerformance Pavilion on Prattscalia/ginsburgweek four 2021
David Kwiatkowski

The author David Kwiatkowski