Justices Scalia and Ginsburg were best friends; this opera, coming to Lancaster, celebrates their friendship | Entertainment
Supreme Court justices Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsburg had a friendship so strong it inspired someone to create an hour-long opera to celebrate.
Scalia, a Republican, and Ginsburg, a Democrat, were political opposites, but they had many shared loves — traveling, spending time together and with their families, and, of course, the opera. Scalia died aged 79 in 2016 and Ginsburg died aged 87 in 2020.
Composer Derrick Wang created “Scalia/Ginsburg” in 2013 to celebrate their unlikely friendship. Early in the opera’s production, Wang asked tenor Peter Scott Drackley to help record, playing the role of Scalia.
It wasn’t long before “Scalia/Ginsburg” was played for both judges. In 2013, Peter played the role of Scalia at the Supreme Court building. Afterwards, the artists were able to visit Ginsburg’s rooms.
Ginsburg wrote a preface for an academic article on the opera saying “‘Scalia/Ginsburg’ is for me a dream come true.”
Since then, his father, Scott Drackley, founder and artistic director of the Penn Square Music Festival, became interested in bringing “Scalia/Ginsburg” to Lancaster.
It was originally slated to debut in early 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic pushed those plans back. This is an auspicious time, given that President Joe Biden recently announced his nomination for Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson. If nominated, Jackson would replace Stephen Breyer, a Democratic judge who recently retired.
“We’re like, thank you, we really appreciate it,” Drackley says with a laugh. “It brings the court back to the fore.”
There will be two performances of the opera at Lancaster County Day School’s brand new Gardner Theater on March 11 and 13.
“It’s a beautiful theater. It’s just beautiful,” Drackley says. “You can’t imagine how excited I am.”
The opera features three singers: Scalia, Ginsburg and a commentator.
Soprano Rachel Policar will play the role of Ginsburg, a role she describes as an honor.
“It is a privilege and an honor to represent Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg,” Policar said in an email. “I hope I can do justice to his memory and his legacy.”
“Scalia/Ginsburg” is a show for true opera fans, as it features several nods and references to other operas.
But it is also a performance intended for everyone.
“To anyone who thinks they won’t enjoy this opera, I disagree!” Policar said in an email. “If one is not an opera fan, they will love this show – short, sweet, poignant and to the point. If one is an opera fan, they will love this show – Wang’s score references the great composers of the lyrical canon, has tons of musical “easter eggs” and plays with style and contrast throughout.”
Singers Dane Suarez (Scalia) and Jesus Vicente Murillo (commentator) will join Policar on stage.
Below the stage, conductor Brian DeMaris will lead a 24-piece orchestra.
DeMaris, a graduate of Ephrata High School, hasn’t played in Lancaster County in nearly 25 years.
He grew up as a pianist, performing for the Fulton Theater and Ephrata Playhouse (now known as the Ephrata Performing Arts Center), as well as several area churches.
“My first opportunities to lead were actually at Ephrata,” DeMaris explains in an email. “I was drum major in the high school band and conducted musicals at Ephrata Playhouse. I owe a lot to the people who gave me those very early opportunities.”
DeMaris didn’t know anything about opera when he was in high school, which makes it “even stranger to direct an opera here,” DeMaris says.
“What I’m doing now as an opera conductor isn’t really something that I even knew was a career option back then,” DeMaris says. “I didn’t even know what opera was! Yet this city has given me so much, especially in my musical education.”
After DeMaris left Lancaster County, he worked with opera companies across the United States, including the New York City Opera, the Florida Grand Opera and the Anchorage Opera, among many others.
It was at the Anchorage Opera that DeMaris worked with Drackley’s son, Peter, who told DeMaris about his father’s upcoming production.
“I do a lot of traditional and contemporary opera, as well as musical theatre, and this piece mixes them all together,” says DeMaris.
Drackley brought in singers and musical performers from across the United States for this performance, an unwitting nod to the opera’s message of unity above all else.
“We Are Different, We Are One,” the opera’s main duet, reinforces that even those with very different points of view can still be friends and get along.
“Boy, does the world need this,” Drackley said. “The message ‘You can be different but you can be together’ is so important.”
Policar and DeMaris also made this point.
“It’s an opera about two friends who may interpret things differently, but they still get along. And so do we, despite our differences,” DeMaris says. “It offers a poignant and meaningful view of America and what makes our country great.”
“Scalia/Ginsburg” will have two performances at the Gardner Theater: Friday, March 11 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, March 13 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $30.
For more information about this opera, visit pennsquaremusicfestival.com.