Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Derrick Wang, composer-librettist of the opera "Scalia/Ginsburg." “He is a very talented young man,” Ginsburg says of Wang. (Courtesy of Derrick Wang)

It sounds like a scene from an unreleased Kurt Vonnegut novel: A conservative Supreme Court justice, fuming after losing a dramatic debate on same-sex marriage, heads to a party and before you can say “Summer of Love,” has jumped into a singalong of Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changin’.” ¶ Don’t believe it? Well, she told us! ¶ “He sang with great verve,” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said of Justice Antonin Scalia in a phone interview with The Washington Post last week. ¶ “Nino,” as she calls him, is her philosophical opposite and great friend. And on Saturday, Ginsburg planned to watch and listen to their relationship played out on the stage at the Castleton Festival in Virginia at the world premiere of Derrick Wang’s one-act opera “Scalia/Ginsburg.” The piece, with repeat performances Friday and next Sunday, takes the words of the two jurists and sets them to music inspired by, among others, Mozart, Verdi and Strauss. That means “Scalia/Ginsburg” is likely the only libretto that makes reference to Shelby County v. Holder, the 2013 case that focused on the constitutionality of key provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, or includes references to “60 Minutes” in the footnotes.

Q: Was there any hesitation to the idea of having your words — and your relationship with a colleague — brought onto the stage?

Ginsburg: Justice Scalia’s response was, “It’s your First Amendment right.” I think I was a little bit more enthusiastic about it than he was. I thought the idea of taking the two of us and including this lovely duet toward the end — “We are different. We are one.” — was a good one. So we start out with Scalia and his rage aria. “The justices are out of line, how can they possibly spout this?” And then I tell him the great thing about our Constitution.

And he sees your view?

What it says is what we have in common. That we revere the court and we want to do our best and leave it in a good state. You might get the impression that there’s a great deal of tension on the court, but we all generally like each other.

Ellen Wieser as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and John Overholt as Justice Antonin Scalia in Derrick Wang’s “Scalia/Ginsburg.” (Tjark Lienke)

So you will be there, but he won’t?

He’s in Rome. He also didn’t go to see the play [“The Originalist,” which featured a character based on Scalia, this past spring] at the Arena Stage.

Did you talk to him about it? Did you suggest he go?

He felt uncomfortable because certain people would notice if he showed up.

But you don’t have the same reservation in going to an opera based on you?

No reservation at all. I’m very glad they’re doing it. I have seen snippets of it. I’d say that Derrick Wang, he is a very talented young man, very clever. And as you know from his publication, he has documented almost every line in the script. I think it’s quite funny.

Are you generally a fan of contemporary opera?

I go to traditional opera, contemporary opera, all the opera that I can see. After Castleton, I’ll go to Glimmerglass. I’ll go to Santa Fe. In September, I will be in Zurich, Switzerland, for the opening of their opera.

Did you have a chance to see “Klinghoffer,” which, as we know, was so controversial when it played at the Met?

I thought it was, first of all, misportrayed. It’s not anti-Semitic. I think people who made that accusation have not seen the opera. Opening night, in the first act, there were a few disruptions, and then in the second act, from the opening curtain to the end, there wasn’t any disturbance because the characters — Klinghoffer and his wife — come across as so sympathetic. Tears were coming down my eyes. And Klinghoffer is portrayed as somebody you would really like, somebody with a sense of humor. I think there was vast misunderstanding.

What do you hope will come out of “Scalia/Ginsburg?”

I just hope people will have a good time and that they get a better understanding about the court and how well we work together. We’re not like Congress at the moment, so divided there’s no conversation possible. That’s the message that you get at the end of it.

It is quite an honor, isn’t it?

Some of my feminist friends say, “How did you allow it to be ‘Scalia/Ginsburg’?” I said, “In this shop, seniority really counts.” Even though I’m two years older than Nino, he was appointed in the ’80s and I was appointed in 1993. He is senior, and he goes first.


July 17 and 19 at the Castleton Festival. For more information, visit