Celebration and remembrance marked the Washington National Opera’s return to live performance, officially ending the company’s extended absence with a concert honoring the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg that featured world-class vocal artists singing some of Justice Ginsburg’s favorite opera selections.
Under the baton of conductor Evan Rogister, the program opened with the overture to Richard Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, accompanied by a video collage of images depicting the construction of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, a nod to the 50th anniversary (1971-2021) of the Center’s opening.
The program’s first half titled, “The Artists” included selections from Jacques Offenbach’s The Les Contes du Hoffman, Christoph Willibald Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice, and Giuseppe Verdi’s Nabucco. In keeping with Justice Ginsburg enthusiasm for new music, contemporary compositions were also featured, including Jeanine Tesori’s charming and humorous “The Girl in 14G,” and Kennedy Center Composer-in-Residence Carlos Simon’s “Fate Now Conquers,” a dazzling orchestral piece inspired by Beethoven and premiered by the Philadelphia Orchestra in October 2020.
The second half was divided into two sections. “Justice,” began with selections from Ludwig van Beethoven’s Fidelio and closed with “Ah! mes amis” from Gaetano Donizetti’s, La Fille du Regiment. The program’s final section, “Liberty” featured South African Pretty Yende’s glorious soprano in “È strano…Ah, fors’è lui…Sempre libera” from Verdi’s La Traviata and an intense and dramatic rendering of “C’est toi? C’est moi” from Georges Bizet’s Carmen sung by Grammy-Award winning Isabel Leonard and UK tenor sensation David Butt Philip as well as selections from Gioachino Rossini’s Guillaume Tell.
Inspired by Justice Ginsburg’s style, costume designer Bibhu Mohapatra dressed the singers in striking designs and bold colors, with the entire cast donning colorful gloves throughout―a Justice Ginsburg signature piece. The incomparable Washington National Opera Orchestra filled the stage, accompanied by the chorus for works by Verdi, Rossini, and Donizetti.
Opera aficionado and life-long advocate for the art form, Justice Bader-Ginsburg’s influence will be felt for generations, not least of all in her family’s gift of her baby grand piano, which will grace Washington National Opera’s newly renamed Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg rehearsal studio and music library in Takoma Park. Other donated items include some of the Justice’s books, opera recordings, and personal memorabilia as well as the costumes she wore when she appeared onstage in several of the company’s productions.
Running time: Approximately two hours and 20 minutes with a 25-minute intermission.
‘Come Home: A Celebration of Return’ plays through November 14, 2021, in the Opera House at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, 2700 F Street NW, Washington, DC 20566. For more information or to purchase tickets, click here.