Justice Ginsburg shines in opera debut (really)

WASHINGTON — You didn't have to watch "Saturday Night Live" last night to be convinced that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg can survive the Age of Trump.

There she was on stage at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, playing the Duchess of Krakenthorp in "The Daughter of the Regiment," her Washington National Opera debut at age 83.

It mattered little that Ginsburg didn't sing, or that she delivered her lines in English rather than French — and appeared to be reading many of them from hand-held props. Despite strong performances from opera stars Lawrence Brownlee and Lisette Oropesa, it was Ginsburg who brought many in the audience to their feet.

It also helped that the Duchess' lines were rewritten for the octogenarian justice and women's rights icon, so that she could play the comic role with 21st century relevance. At one point, she made an analogy to "throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet" — a line from her stinging dissent in the Supreme Court's 2013 decision weakening the Voting Rights Act.

The justice also shook her head disdainfully when enumerating a woman's assumed roles in society — poetry, needlework, dance and "of course, opera" — before adding riding, hunting, water-skiing and parasailing.

The opera, by Italian composer Gaetano Donizetti, focuses on a young woman who grows up as an adopted member of a French regiment, falls in love and wishes to marry, but is ordered back to her birth mother to live a more proper upbringing. That's where Ginsburg came in; wearing a floor-length, olive-green gown, she played much of her role in a huge chair that nearly swallowed her up, her feet not reaching the stage floor.

Because Ginsburg declined to retire during President Obama's term in office, she now faces four or more years in which a Republican president would have the chance to choose her successor. For that reason, she is being watched closely for signs of physical or mental decline.

On Saturday night, she showed neither. Instead, the lifelong opera fan lived out one of her fantasies — if not as a diva, as she often says she wished to be (if she could sing), at least as the bit player who brought the house down for one night. Her role now will be taken over by Cindy Gold for the rest of the run.

Among those treated to the justice's debut were former House speaker Newt Gingrich, a leading candidate for a Cabinet role in President-elect Donald Trump's administration, and his wife, Callista. No word on whether they liked the show.


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