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.
Her life was about understanding people’s stories, and that’s what we do. When you look at her great decisions — like the father who was trying to get child care support because he was a widower, and at that point you could only get the support if you were a widow — those kinds of cases she made her career of are the stuff of opera. The underdog, the ill-served character: Manon Lescaut, Violetta, women who have to struggle their way to the top for survival. They connected to her sense of right and wrong and what is a humane way of living.
After “Fidelio” we stayed really close. In D.C., I even put her in a speaking role in “The Daughter of the Regiment.” I would say she was someone who loved the “ABC” — “Aida, “Bohème” and “Carmen” — but also more sophisticated and complex works. She came to every performance of Wagner’s “Ring” we did in Washington. And she would often come to both the dress rehearsal and the first performance of things, and then also the last performance.
When her husband Marty passed, she would come more often. She would always bring someone with her, sometimes another justice. By the last few years, she would appear and come down the aisle and everyone would start cheering. I think that opera just gave her an incredible escape. Particularly after Marty died, it allowed her mind to go places it needed to go to rest from the incredible work that she was doing for all of us. If the tireless pursuit of justice is your day job, it helps to spend time at the Café Momus in “La Bohème” at night.
She came to Glimmerglass for nine summers and did a program called “Law and Opera with R.B.G.” We’d had so many conversations about how, in many operas, there’s a contract. What opera doesn’t have a contract, or wrongdoing? And so we would do scenes from operas and she would talk about the legal side. We’d do the Seguidilla from “Carmen” and she’d explain that that was plea bargaining.
We did “Scalia/Ginsburg” at Glimmerglass, about their friendship, and before Scalia died, there were many great performances, when we would have opening nights in Washington, and Scalia would sit on one side of the aisle and she sat in the other. They would be friendly and jocular and lovey-dovey at the opera, and you knew the next day they would be giving opposing opinions.