An issue that may help determine the outcome of this fall’s presidential election will be interpreted in song and music tonight, when the Lower Manhattan-based Knickerbocker Chamber Orchestra (KCO) premieres, “Supreme Justice: The Battle for Gay Rights,” a new work for soprano, tenor, vocal ensemble and orchestra, which chronicles the struggle for marriage equality in the Supreme Court. Soprano Lucy Shelton voices Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and tenor John Duykers plays the recently deceased Justice Antonin Scalia.
Justice Ginsburg said of gay rights, “the change in people’s attitudes has been enormous. We discovered it’s our next-door neighbor — we’re very fond of them. Or it’s our child’s best friend, or even our child. I think that as more and more people came out and said that ‘this is who I am,’ the rest of us recognized that they are one of us.”
On the same subject, Justice Scalia once said to a gay student, “if we cannot have moral feelings against homosexuality, can we have it against murder?” When the student caviled at this line of reasoning, he added, “I’m surprised you aren’t persuaded.” In a bitter dissent from Obergefell v. Hodges, the 2015 decision that legalized gay marriage, Mr. Scalia wrote, “the Supreme Court of the United States has descended from disciplined legal reasoning… to the mystical aphorisms of the fortune cookie.”
The libretto of “Supreme Justice” includes extensive quotes from both justices, and the musical drama is based largely on the arguments and decision in the Obergefell case.
“Supreme Justice” is a musical interpretation of the friendship and rivalry shared by Justices Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who were on opposite sides of the issue of marriage equality.
Composed by KCO founder and music director Gary S. Fagin, the piece explores the dynamic between a legal odd couple who maintained a close personal friendship while remaining implacable legal adversaries. Despite occupying different ends of the ideological spectrum, Mr. Scalia and Ms. Ginsburg often vacationed together, and were famously photographed riding an elephant during a 1994 trip to India. In a 2015 joint appearance, Mr. Scalia said of his companion, “her feminist friends were upset that she rode behind me.” Ms. Ginsburg snapped back that the elephant driver had insisted on the arrangement, “as a matter of distribution of weight.”
Ms. Ginsburg appears to have gotten the last word on gay marriage, and not just because a majority of justices took her side in 2015. A few months before the Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex weddings, she officiated at one in New York, where such unions were already legal. As she pronounced two men legally betrothed, she recited the customary boilerplate of, “by the powers vested in me by the Constitution of the United States,” but gave special emphasis to the phrase, “by the Constitution.” Even so, the controversy over who should fill the Supreme Court seat vacated by Mr. Scalia (who died in February) appears poised to loom large in the 2016 presidential election, and his successor’s legal philosophy may determine the Court’s (and thus the nation’s) direction for decades to come.
Michael Bacon performs with Christine Kim
Friday night’s recital will also feature the premiere of “Concerto for Violoncello and Orchestra,” by composer Michael Bacon, performed by Christine Kim. Mr. Bacon’s work may be familiar to a wider audience as a composer for film and television, who (with his famous sibling, actor Kevin Bacon) performs in the Bacon Brothers Band.
The Friday performance of “Supreme Justice” and “Concerto for Violoncello and Orchestra” will take place at Pace University’s Schimmel Center for the Arts (Three Spruce Street, east of Park Row, near the corner of Gold Street), starting at 7:30 pm. Tickets are priced at $39 for general admission, but discounted to $10 for students with identification. Pace University is also offering complimentary admission to students attending as a class accompanied by a teacher, and to members of an LGBT club attending as a group.
For more information, call the Schimmel Center box office at 212-346-1715.