Opening Statements

Opera based on Justices Ginsburg and Scalia is written by attorney

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Illustration by Jeff Dionise

Most experienced lawyers can only dream about appearing before the U.S. Supreme Court. But newly minted attorney Derrick Wang got the chance just weeks out of law school, holding court before a rapt audience in late June that included Justices Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

But Wang wasn’t there to argue a case. The University of Maryland law grad was presenting an opera he’d composed called Scalia/Ginsburg, which is based on words from the justices’ own opinions.

“It was definitely a once in a lifetime experience,” Wang says of the performance held in the court’s East Conference Room. “As a law student you study and cite the Supreme Court, but you never think you’re going to get an invitation to appear there.”

Wang discovered drama and heard arias in the depths of his casebooks, and he says he found Ginsburg and Scalia’s ideological differences to be of operatic caliber. Wang was also inspired by the justices’ friendship.

“There’s something very special and symbolic about [their] relationship,” Wang says. “It tells us something about ourselves at this point in time. These are strong characters who disagree on a number of issues but are able to overcome those issues to remain friends in real life.”

Wang’s operatic mentor, University of Maryland law professor Michael Walker, supported his venture. They wrote to Ginsburg and Scalia together. The two opera-loving jurists offered encouragement and, later, an invitation to perform.

Wang says he did his best to give musical life to the justices’ words, describing Scalia’s writing style as vivid and inspiring in contrast with Ginsburg’s more lyrical prose. Wang says he intertwined music and law in Scalia/Ginsburg, utilizing “operatic precedent” to ensure the context of each scene’s legal opinions were reflected in a similar musical style and era.

An accomplished musician and composer, Wang plans to practice intellectual property law. But for now, he’s fine-tuning his hourlong masterpiece and is in discussions for Scalia/Ginsburg’s public debut.

This article originally appeared in the December 2013 issue of the ABA Journal with this headline: “Arias at Law: Attorney creates an opera based on Justices Ginsburg and Scalia.”

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