Opera stars pay tribute to Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

"From one Valkyrie to another, safe home."

September 29, 2020, 6:02 AM

Aside from Marty and the law, opera was Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's avowed passion in life.

In fact, if she hadn't gone into law, she often said, she would've liked to have been a singer -- although "sadly for me, I'm a monotone," she said during a visit to Amherst College last year.

As much as she adored opera, many of the singers whose performances she saw adored her right back.

"Justice Ginsburg was a personal heroine of mine, as I'm sure she is a heroine for the country -- the world," American soprano Christine Goerke said in an artist statement for a performance video released Monday night by Lincoln Center in honor of Ginsburg.

In the video, Goerke, who has met and performed for Ginsburg on several occasions, performs an aria from Beethoven's "Fidelio," known to be one of Ginsburg's favorite operas.

"The crux of the piece is about a woman who is unafraid to pass boundaries, to go where she is told she is not allowed to be, to save people that she loves. She puts her very life on the line to make sure that everyone has the kind of life that they deserve," Goerke explained in the statement, adding that, in her eyes, it relates directly to Ginsburg's life.

Goerke was not alone in honoring Ginsburg through song. American mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato also did a performance in her memory, of "America the Beautiful."

"Justice Ginsburg told me just about a year ago that her time listening to music in the concert hall and opera theater was one of the only times that the briefings and the opinions would stop dancing in her head," DiDonato said. "So I wanted to pay tribute to her in song."

DiDonato and Ginsburg spoke on a panel together at the Kennedy Center last fall.

DiDonato continued in her video this week, "My fervent hope is that we can make her proud by continuing the battle towards equality and justice."

At a ceremony for Ginsburg at the Capitol on Friday, mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves, one of Ginsburg's favorite singers, performed the spiritual "Deep River" and Gene Scheer's "American Anthem." Graves called Ginsburg "the Mighty and Magnificent Brave soldier on the front line fighting for us all."

As news of Ginsburg's death spread last weekend, the opera world grieved in public, especially the more liberal singers. Renee Fleming, now a Virginia resident, posted on Instagram from the impromptu Supreme Court memorial: "What a devastating loss. Who will fight for us now?"

In addition to going to the opera, Ginsburg did have some opportunities to participate in it. Aside from talks and panels, Ginsburg, along with friend and fellow opera fan Justice Antonin Scalia (about whom the opera "Scalia/Ginsburg" was written), appeared as a supernumerary -- a non-singing onstage role -- and she had an appearance in 2016 in Washington National Opera's "The Daughter of the Regiment," in a one-scene speaking role.

PHOTO: Opening night of the Washington National Opera production of "Ariadne Auf Naxos" at The Kennedy Center Opera House, Oct. 24, 2009, in Washington, DC.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Justice Antonin Scalia, Eleanor Holmes Norton and Adrienne Arsht appear onstage during opening night of the Washington National Opera production of "Ariadne Auf Naxos" at The Kennedy Center Opera House, Oct. 24, 2009, in Washington, DC.
Karin Cooper/Getty Images, FILE

"The loss of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is a national loss of immense magnitude, but also a personal loss for me," tenor Lawrence Brownlee, who appeared in that performance, wrote of her death, adding that he was feeling "numb."

"She loved Wagner's 'Götterdämmerung,' and its finale, the Immolation Scene. We had a lot of conversations about Brünnhilde, and why it took a woman to save the world. That's what she said: Only a woman could do it; only a woman could change the course of history. She did always love pieces where the woman was the protagonist," wrote Washington National Opera director Francesca Zambello for The New York Times.

Goerke, a renowned Brünnhilde and an outspoken Democrat, wrote on Twitter in reaction to Ginsburg's death, "From one Valkyrie to another, safe home."