Meet Ruth, a Supreme Court justice who once dreamt of being an opera singer. Although she never shimmies across a stage like Cecilia Bartoli, she’s a total diva — especially on dissent days, when she wears her famous jewel-studded judicial collar.
These are Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s private and public faces, captured now in Notorious RBG. The 75-minute multimedia performance makes its Cleveland premiere April 18 in Cleveland State Unviersity’s Drinko Hall.
The production’s centerpiece is The Long View: A Portrait of Ruth Bader Ginsburg in Nine Songs, a song cycle composed and performed by her daughter-in-law, Patrice Michaels. Notorious RBG also includes musical portraits of family members, multimedia projections and tales from the bench told in the justice’s own words. The event is accompanied by an April 16 Q&A with Ginsburg’s son, James.
It’s not often that artists profile a Supreme Court justice in song. But Angelin Chang, a pianist and CSU professor of music and law and who performs alongside Michaels, thinks it makes perfect sense.
“It’s more intimate… [Music] really crosses the boundaries,” says Chang, who became the first American female pianist to win a Grammy in 2007. “There’s a saying about how music expresses what words cannot.”
The Long View specifically explores Ginsburg’s Supreme Court career and push for gender equality, including co-founding the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project.
Inspiration came to Michaels in 2013 as Ginsburg celebrated her 80th birthday. Three female composers turned texts from the justice’s life into musical numbers later performed at her birthday bash. Michaels adapted those songs, along with personal letters and creative reimaginings, and wove it all together to form The Long View. Her original work became the fifth song in the cycle, “Anita’s Story,” based on a letter from a young law clerk detailing her first meeting with that small woman with the big voice.
“She’s become such an icon,” says Chang. “This sheds light on where we are today as a society that otherwise people may not be able to see, especially by merging this hot topic with the art and culture in our community.”