Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg Visits WFMT

Next month, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg will be back on the bench at the U.S. Supreme Court. But today she held court in our house. Taking some time off from interpreting the Constitution, Justice Ginsburg paid a visit to WTTW’s sister radio station WFMT to demonstrate that she's also an authority on classical music.

Joining regular program host Lisa Flynn, Justice Ginsburg spent an hour introducing works that had special meaning to her, beginning with the first classical music she ever heard growing up in New York City: a condensed version of "La Gioconda," a rather obscure opera these days, though it does contain some music that most everyone recognizes.

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While WFMT has guest hosts on occasion, Justice Ginsburg is the first Supreme Court Justice to program an hour of music at the station. But there's a connection that brought her here: her son. James Ginsburg is the founder and CEO of Cedille Records, a Chicago-based recording label that specializes in classical music. And many of the recordings have been made in WFMT's Fay and Daniel Levin Performance Studio.

It was no coincidence that all of the selections chosen today by Justice Ginsburg came from recordings on her son's Cedille Records. Among them, a selection called “Monica's Waltz" from another little known opera called “The Medium.”

In an unusual turn of events, Ginsburg is now the subject of an opera by Derrick Wang that premiered two months ago. It's called “Scalia/Ginsburg,” and is a comic spoof that pits the arch conservative of the court against the arch liberal. During her announcement of the world premiere of the work at the Opera America conference on May 9, Justice Ginsburg provided a little background about Wang's opera:

The story of this is: Derrick [Wang] has degrees in music from Harvard and from Yale, but he thought it would be good to learn a little bit about the law. So he enrolled at the University of Maryland. And then he’s taking constitutional law class, and he sees these dueling opinions — Scalia and Ginsburg — and decides that would make a very funny opera.

The plot involves Justice Antonin Scalia being sent into seclusion by the gods for too much dissenting. He is rescued by Justice Ginsburg who attended the world premiere in July and gave it a rave review. 

In recent years Justice Ginsburg has become something of a pop culture hero – mostly among liberals. She also has a large following of young people who've dubbed her "Notorious R.B.G.” after the rapper known as the Notorious B.I.G.

After her stint as a classical music DJ, Justice Ginsburg presided over another hour of classical music, this time involving live performers. Singers from Lyric Opera of Chicago's Ryan Center, a training ground for up-and-coming opera singers, performed legally themed selections from operas including one from “Carmen.”

Justice Ginsburg steered clear of talking about Supreme Court issues both past and future, but when it comes to classical music, she talks freely and for a couple of very special hours today her rulings were music to everyone's ears.

Watch an excerpt of Derrick Wang's opera "Scalia/Ginsburg."

Scalia/Ginsburg - Castleton Festival from Castleton Festival on Vimeo.

Below, a timline of Justice Ginsburg's career.

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