Sunday, June 03, 2012
“Mad About Music”
Justices of the Supreme Court:
Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia
June 3, 2012
Cole Porter “Tale of the Oyster.” Samuel Ramey, baritone. Recorded live at the United States Supreme Court.
Giacomo Puccini Tosca “Vissi d’arte.” Orchestra of La Scala. Victor de Sabata. Maria Callas, soprano. Musical Heritage Society 524973H.
Richard Strauss Der Rosenkavalier. Act III [excerpt]. Philharmonia Orchestra & Chorus. Herbert von Karajan. Otto Edelmann, bass; Christa Ludwig, mezzo-soprano; Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, soprano; Teresa Stich-Randall, soprano. EMI 7 49354 2.
Fritz Kreisler Liebesleid. Joshua Bell, violin; Paul Coker, piano. Decca D 112473.
James Edwards, James Keyes, Claude Feaster, Carl Feaster, Floyd McRae "Sh-Boom.” The Chords. Flashback R2 72716.
William Boyce Symphony No. 1. Third movement. The English Concert. Trevor Pinnock. Archiv 419 631-2.
GILBERT KAPLAN: Welcome back to “Mad About Music” for this special for this special edition focusing on Justices of the Supreme Court.
KAPLAN: The Supreme Court is expected to be in the news this month ruling on some blockbuster cases dealing with the constitutionality of President Obama’s healthcare plan and Arizona’s Immigration law. Two of the Justices, one a leader of the liberal bloc, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and one a leader of the conservative wing, Antonin Scalia, are both likely to be active in asserting their views. But if you were to pass their chambers while they are at work drafting those views, you’re likely to hear music in the background – in the case of Justice Ginsburg it would be Mozart and for Justice Scalia, Bach. That just begins to tell the story about their passion for music. Both have been guests on “Mad About Music” and now on the eve of announcing these momentous decisions, we revisit their appearances on the show. And we start with Justice Ginsburg. Early as a lawyer she earned a reputation as a champion of women’s rights and won five out of the six of her appearances as a private attorney before the Supreme Court. She was appointed by President Clinton in 1993, but for our listeners, Ruth Bader Ginsburg stands out for her life-long love of music. I started our interview by observing that of all of our government institutions in Washington, the Supreme Court with its nine justices may constitute the greatest concentration of music lovers.
RUTH BADER GINSBURG: I think you’re right – we have a clear majority.
KAPLAN: And who would be the ones that come to mind who are as passionate as perhaps you are?
GINSBURG: Justice Scalia who I must confess is the only one of us who can carry a tune and he was my companion at the Washington Opera when we both appeared as supers, as extras, in a performance of Ariadne auf Naxos.
KAPLAN: That’s interesting because I would think as a “couple” you might be an odd couple – I don't see the two of you dancing to the same tune so much on the Court. But what about music? Do you have similar tastes in music?
GINSBURG: We certainly do. We are given to beautiful music we don’t shy away from admitting that we cry at Puccini and I think our musical tastes are very much alike.
KAPLAN: Now for some years you and your colleagues have become impresarios, turning the Supreme Court into a concert venue. What’s the story behind that?
GINSBURG: It all started with Justice Blackmun who regularly taught during our summer recess in Aspen, Colorado at the Aspen Institute and the music festival coincides with the Law and Society course that he was teaching. He became friendly with the then Vice President of the Aspen Institute, Dr. Stephen Strickland and said “It’s sad that at the Court all we have is an old upright piano.” Dr. Strickland said “I think we can do something about that” and he arranged with the help of others to have a wonderful Baldwin piano selected for the Court by Leonard Bernstein. This was in 1988. Inside and on the soundboard in big letters, in Leonard Bernstein’s hand is written: “And justice for all,” signed Leonard Bernstein, 1988. That’s how it began and then Justice Blackmun thought it might be nice to celebrate the arrival of the piano by having a Musicale. 1988 was the first and initially it was every two years, now its every year. It’s an annual event.
KAPLAN: What about repertoire. Do you play traditional music, how widespread is the range?
GINSBURG: Oh, the range is enormous – so we could go from Bach all the way to Burl Ives, Cole Porter.
KAPLAN: Cole Porter?
GINSBURG: Yes, and a sample that I have brought with me, a Cole Porter number is Samuel Ramey; the rich resonant bass baritone that I am accustomed to hearing in a devilish role like Mephistopheles. Here he sings in just a delightful way Cole Porter’s witty “Tale of the Oyster.”
KAPLAN: The “Tale of the Oyster” by Cole Porter sung by Samuel Ramey with pianist Warren Jones, a selection of my guest, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and recorded during a live performance at the Supreme Court. Now let’s talk about how music came into your life. Did you study an instrument as a child?
GINSBURG: I studied the piano first and while I have a passion for music, I have no talent as a performer. I worked hard at the piano but then in my high school years I wanted another instrument so that I could perform in the school orchestra so I would have that experience and I selected the cello.
KAPLAN: But you didn’t stay with it?
GINSBURG: No, I studied long enough to be able to make at least the first note of every bar. I was in the very last row of the cellos and I did remain in the orchestra throughout my high school years.
KAPLAN: Let’s turn to opera. This really is your first love in music, isn’t it?
GINSBURG: Yes, it is; my first and continuing love.
KAPLAN: Now, you mentioned earlier you were a super or an extra once, in an opera. Did you ever fanaticize about being a performer?
GINSBURG: In my dreams, yes. I am …
KAPLAN: What role might you pursue if you were going to be a performer?
GINSBURG: I might be Beverly Sills as Cleopatra, or in any of her “queen” roles. I could be Renata Tebaldi or, if I’m going down to a lower register, my great friend, a magical mezzo named Denyce Graves.
KAPLAN: Tell me about music in your life today in Washington. How often do you attend the opera or concerts?
GINSBURG: I attend every performance of The Washington Opera at least once and I go to as many dress rehearsals as I can manage.
KAPLAN: Well, back in Washington as a Justice of the Supreme Court I assume from time to time you’re invited to the White House for dinners where Heads of State are present and where classical musical is usually featured. What is your assessment of the music at the White House?
GINSBURG: I have attended only one formal dinner at the White House and that was given by President Clinton to welcome the President of South Korea to the United States. It was a typical State dinner; the President of South Korea was seated between Hillary Clinton and me with an interpreter behind us. It was a rather trying evening speaking through a translator and the President of South Korea being a very serious man. When the evening was over, on the way out, there was a line of reporters and one of them asked, “What did you think of this dinner?” I said, “It was incredibly grand for me.” “What was so good about it?” “I was seated at the same table as Beverly Sills.” And this young reporter answered, “Who’s Beverly Sills?”
KAPLAN: But I understand that Maria Callas is perhaps even more of a hero of yours than Beverly Sills or at least equal. Did you ever see her perform?
GINSBURG: To my great sadness I never saw Callas perform although I did meet that great diva. I met her in an elevator at the Hay-Adams Hotel. She was in town for a concert. I was in town to make an argument at the Court. I stepped into the elevator and there was Callas in white mink with her poodle with the same color as her coat. She looked every inch the diva that she was and I mumbled something about how much joy she had given me through her recordings and then I felt as if I had been touched by magic -- that there was no way that I was going to lose that argument -- and as things turned out a couple of months later, the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court was unanimously in favor of my client.
KAPLAN: That’s a wonderful story and it’s of course a pity that you could never have experienced hearing or seeing Callas sing. I suppose you would have liked to done that. Where would have been the moment? What would have been the work?
GINSBURG: The opening night of Tosca at La Scala. Tosca was one of Callas’ best roles and I believe that at the opening she sang Tosca with di Stefano. At any rate, she sang Tosca many times with di Stefano. She recorded it with him from La Scala with de Sabata as the conductor and her recording of Tosca has been described as perhaps the best recording of opera any place.
KAPLAN: “Vissi d’arte” from Puccini’s Tosca, sung by Maria Callas with the Orchestra and Chorus of La Scala under the baton of Victor de Sabata, a selection of my guest on “Mad About Music,” Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Now continuing on with the Supreme Court and music, during your work at the Court, do you keep music on in the background when you’re working?
GINSBURG: Sometimes, I have a Bose radio and it’s a radio/CD player; I have a stack of CDs.
KAPLAN: What music can you work to because some music is so intrusive, so compelling you can’t concentrate -- this has to be sort of pretty background music, right?
GINSBURG: More than pretty background music, but music that I can keep in the background. Mozart is my favorite but there are others.
KAPLAN: Someone told me you have a large photo of Pavarotti on your office wall. Is he a friend or are you just a fan?
GINSBURG: He was in town; he was in D.C. to perform at the USAir Arena and the Embassy of Italy had a reception for him the night before and I think almost every person there was photographed at some point in the evening with Pavarotti.
KAPLAN: Before we conclude, I want to ask you to combine your experience on the Supreme Court with your considerable knowledge of opera. If Bush v. Gore were turned into an opera, and who knows, it may well happen, and the oral arguments become recitatives and passionate arias, which composer today or historical would you choose whose music could best illuminate that drama?
KAPLAN: Verdi. Would there be a second choice?
KAPLAN: Wagner. I thought you might say Wagner. Well, that does leave us with two names and since the Court might have to make a decision, what do you think the prospects would be for a unanimous decision by the Court on that question?
GINSBURG: On the question of Verdi?
KAPLAN: Versus Wagner.
GINSBURG: I think we would have a clear majority for Verdi.
KAPLAN: Well, I don’t know that you’ll ever take a vote on that. And with that, we concluded our show with Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. When we come back, we’ll next turn to Justice Antonin Scalia.
KAPLAN: This is Gilbert Kaplan as we continue our special edition of “Mad About Music” focusing on Supreme Court Justices – at a moment when rulings are expected soon to be announced for two blockbuster cases dealing with the constitutionality of President Obama’s healthcare plan and Arizona’s Immigration Law. In the first part of the broadcast we revisited Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s earlier appearance on the show and now we continue with Justice Antonin Scalia. He is probably the most talked about Justice on the Supreme Court and one of the most influential – known for his unflinching conservatism and hard-hitting opinions. During oral arguments he peppers lawyers appearing before the court with machine-gun-style questions and a healthy dose of wisecracks. To kick things off, I asked Justice Scalia how his passion for music had developed – whether his parents were musical and whether he took childhood music lessons.
ANTONIN SCALIA: Both of those. My mother played the piano. Her tastes were less – what should I say - more pop classical then you know deep serious classical. My father on the other hand was very much a devotee of classical music and I found out later in life that when he was a young man he had studied for a year at the Rochester Conservatory of Music in New York. He had a very good tenor voice as a young man but he ultimately laid it aside and settled down to a career in teaching at Brooklyn College. The first opera I ever saw was in his company. He took me to a production by the college group and frankly I don’t remember -- I’m not clear whether it was Brooklyn College or Columbia. He used to teach at Columbia in the summer. But it was a production of Gianni Schicchi by Puccini and I always remembered that.
KAPLAN: Now you studied lessons you said. Was that the piano?
SCALIA: It was the piano. And I took lessons, my goodness, it must be for as long as 15 years. At the end of which I was really quite good. I used to play Pathétique Sonata you know, the standard repertoire, Flight of the Bumble Bee, Clair de Lune and so forth. I have not touched the piano in probably 15 years. I cannot bear to hear myself anymore because to maintain your proficiency you have to practice and when you’re used to doing it well and you hear yourself doing it badly you don’t go near the instrument.
KAPLAN: I read somewhere that you actually played the French horn in a marching band in high school.
SCALIA: I did, but you know, I’m not sure to what extent one should call that serious musicianship. The French horn in a marching band has the offbeat all the time. Bahp bahp bap-bup… It’s also a very difficult piece to play while you’re walking because it has a very tiny mouthpiece that bites into your lips especially on cold days.
KAPLAN: Now you said that your father was a singer and as I understood it you are also a tenor, and you have sung in choral music, haven’t you?
SCALIA: I sang for many years in choral music. I was in the glee club in college. When I was a professor at the University of Chicago, I sang in the Rockefeller Chapel Choir which was you know, a paid choir, but I was not paid. I got into it because my next door neighbor was the conductor of the Rockefeller Chapel Choir. And then when I came up to Washington to be on the Court of Appeals, I joined a choral group here. It was called the Wareham Chorale. And we sang at the National Gallery, the National Cathedral, various other places. I miss it very much. I, you know, anyone who has sung in a choral group knows how – how wonderful it is to make music with other people. It’s a distinctive pleasure quite different from making music just by yourself.
KAPLAN: All right then, let’s turn to music, your music list today and I see your first selection is Strauss’ Rosenkavalier.
SCALIA: Yes, and I picked that because Strauss is one my favorite composers of opera, and Rosenkavalier is probably my favorite opera by him. Well, your listeners are probably familiar with the plot. The opera opens with the Marschallin in her boudoir with Octavian, who is a young man that has fallen in love with her and they have obviously spent the night together. Baron Ochs who’s a relative of hers shows up and Octavian disguises himself as a chamber maid. Baron Ochs has been engaged to a young woman, Sophie, who has just come out of the convent and is not familiar with the ways of the world but she’s looking forward to her engagement and marriage with Ochs. Ochs wants to present her with a silver rose - hence the title of the opera, Der Rosenkavalier; The Rose Knight. And Ochs asks the Marschallin does she know some nobleman who could present this silver rose to Sophie and she suggests Octavian. Octavian falls madly in love with Sophie as soon as the two of them meet and the scene that you’re about to hear is a scene in which Octavian has arranged matters to get Baron Ochs to break his engagement with Sophie or her father to break the engagement. He has set up a, what should I say, something of a farce at a tavern in which it’s dim lights and he, Octavian, is still disguised as the chamber maid and Baron Ochs, who is a dirty old man, has come there for an assignation (with the chambermaid). But during it, you know, windows open and faces stare into the room. At the height of it all, an Italian actress, whom Octavian has hired rushes into the room and accuses Baron Ochs of being her husband and she has, I think it’s at least three children behind her who come in shouting, “Papa! Papa! Papa!” and you’ll hear that in this excerpt. I like this excerpt because it is just hilarious. The music suits the mood so well and yet it’s beautiful music, it’s swelling, characteristically Richard Strauss.
KAPLAN: An excerpt from a rollicking scene in the final act of Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier, the Philharmonia Orchestra and a star cast, all under the baton of Herbert von Karajan. The first selection of my guest on “Mad About Music” today, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. You know, when I saw Strauss on your list, I must confess I expected to see Ariadne auf Naxos because you recently appeared as a super – an extra – right? - In a performance at the Washington Opera. This was actually the second time you’ve done this. Right?
SCALIA: And indeed, the second time I have done it in a duet with Justice Ginsburg, the two of us -
KAPLAN: She had a more modest role, I think, in the second version.
SCALIA: My role was a rather passive one. I was in the audience in this second production and at one point a perky little participant in the opera, crazy opera that the nobleman has produced; she comes and sits upon my lap. It’s not in the script but it was written in for that night. And I didn’t consider it my, you know, most notable theatrical performance. It didn’t take much talent. But I thoroughly enjoyed it.
KAPLAN: Now, was it agreed to beforehand? Or was this spontaneous?
SCALIA: No, no, no - it was not a surprise. No, I was warned. I was warned.
KAPLAN: I see. You know, I can’t imagine anything that you have done from my observation which has received as much publicity as this. You know, a rather dramatic photograph has been printed in magazines, newspapers circulated on the web. And, you know, I suppose you would be surprised at this because you probably don’t look but I, in preparing for the show, I looked at the web completely, and, well there are a lot of blogs that take great pleasure at sticking public officials and this was described, in your case, as getting a lap dance on the stage.
SCALIA: Well, I don’t think that’s the proper description of lap dancing.
KAPLAN: Now, let’s talk about performance in terms of the Supreme Court. I mean, I think it’s fair to say that you are regarded as the Court’s foremost performer, in the sense you’re always peppering lawyers with questions and comments and often wise cracks. I think you’re ranked as the funniest man on the Supreme Court based on the number of citations in the official documents of laughter that you’ve produced. How much of what you do, do you regard as performance? And to what purpose?
SCALIA: Oh, I don’t – you know - I guess one purpose is to just lighten things up. Life is dull enough. There’s no reason why legal argument cannot be civilized with a little bit of wit and humor now and then. It’s hard for that to come from the counsel who are arguing the case. It’s pretty risky to try to be humorous when you’re counsel but the judges can now and then make wry observations upon the passing scene. That’s one purpose. But another purpose is there is nothing that can so deflate an overblown argument as a humorous interjection that shows how absurd it is.
KAPLAN: All right, let’s come back to your music and one of the most wonderful pieces on your list, Fritz Kreisler.
SCALIA: Well, I love Fritz Kreisler. I’m not sure, well anybody would love him - it’s just beautiful, beautiful music. What makes it especially significant for me, the year that I was married which was immediately after law school, I had a fellowship, a traveling fellowship that Harvard University provided. And I got married and spent the next year traveling about Europe. About three months of that time we spent in Frankfurt. Don’t ask me why we spent it in Frankfurt. I was young and stupid. It was not the best place in the world to do it. But Frankfurt had a wonderful coffee house. It was called Kranzlers. And I think Kranzler’s originated in Vienna, but if it didn’t it should have, because it was a Viennese coffee house. You would go in and have wonderful coffee, elegant German pastries at beautiful tables, a lovely setting and there would always be music, sometimes just a piano and violin, sometimes a trio and it was always delightful, schmaltzy, Viennese Music which Fritz Kreisler more than anybody else knows how to compose and I think in this recording Joshua Bell knows how to play. The work that I’ve selected to be heard is “Liebesleid.”
KAPLAN: Fritz Kreisler’s touching “Liebesleid” (Love’s Sorrow) performed by violinist Joshua Bell with Paul Coker on the piano. Music chosen by my guest today on “Mad About Music,” Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. When we return we’ll talk about the role of music at the Supreme Court.
KAPLAN: This is Gilbert Kaplan with my guest today on “Mad About Music,” Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. Now I’d like to talk a little bit further about music at the Supreme Court because it strikes me that it might be the institution with the greatest percentage of passionate music lovers in Washington. In addition to you, there’s Justice Ginsburg, Kennedy, and Breyer I believe all love music. The late Chief Justice Rehnquist loved choral music I understand.
SCALIA: Oh, he was a singer, absolutely.
KAPLAN: Now what about the latest arrivals: Justices Roberts, Alito and Sotomayor? Any experience with them and music?
SCALIA: I don’t know to tell you the truth. Alito is Italian; he must love music. How could he not?
KAPLAN: This is probably a silly question, but because it turns out that almost everybody on the Court does love classical music in a very passionate way. Do you think someone who is sensitive to classical music and opera might make them a better Justice?
KAPLAN: No, I said it was a silly question. OK, now in recent years the Court has become a presenter, I think twice a year, and the current impresario is your colleague Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
SCALIA: And she does a wonderful job at it.
KAPLAN: But this task as I understand it is passed around, a few people have done it before her. Is this something you might like to take on as an assignment one day?
SCALIA: Oh, she is such a hard act to follow, that no, I would hope not to have to take the baton from her. She is so good at it; I hope she’ll be doing it for as long as I’m on the Court.
KAPLAN: What about the acoustics there? How do they strike you?
SCALIA: Oh, well it’s magnificent for any sort of chamber music or vocal music because it’s almost entirely a wood paneled room, you know, with a high ceiling. So it’s lively, I mean the sounds really reverberate and with a sizeable enough audience to absorb the echoes. They don’t reverberate too much. But it’s just perfect acoustically I think.
KAPLAN: Let’s talk about music in your life now. How often do you attend live performances?
SCALIA: Oh my, I think quite often. Oh, on average, I don’t know, twice a month, something like that.
KAPLAN: And beyond opera, what do you go to?
SCALIA: You know, I used to go to symphonies. I don’t do it as much anymore and maybe that’s a fault of mine. But I find that, unlike with opera, I can hear a symphony at home on, you know, a very faithful hi-fi recording without somebody unwrapping a candy bar behind me. Opera, on the other hand, to my mind is fifty percent theater and fifty percent music. And you lose half of it if you don’t understand what’s going on which is why I’m so much a fan of the Surtitles. They make opera so much more understandable.
KAPLAN: You mentioned you can listen at home. Are you someone who has a particularly fancy high fidelity system?
SCALIA: Well, I think it’s fancy. It’s very old now, they’re Bose speakers, you know, one of the original huge Bose speakers that sort of fit into the corner of a room - and a good system to drive them.
KAPLAN: Now, are you an iPod type?
SCALIA: I have an iPod which when I go on airplanes and, you know, I have a chatty pair of adolescents behind me driving me nuts, I just put on my earphones and turn on some Baroque music that enables me to survive.
KAPLAN: I’ll bet it does. Now I understand that when you are drafting opinions you have music on in the background. Your colleague, Justice Thomas, I know once observed, he said “It's like he's conducting a symphony.” Do you always have music on?
SCALIA: Sometimes. And the best is Bach.
KAPLAN: Because it -
SCALIA: I don’t know why Bach?
KAPLAN: Doesn’t intrude or?
SCALIA: It doesn’t intrude and it’s very orderly. I truly believe it. It sets your mind in order and I think some other music disorders your mind; confuses it.
KAPLAN: Now when you are grappling with a decision, I suppose there are some decisions you don’t know immediately which way you’re going to go.
SCALIA: More than a few.
KAPLAN: Do you ever turn to music for consolation, for support, for reflection, for - ?
SCALIA: Well, music is a part of my life. You know so, I would turn to music whether I had a problematic case at hand or not, so I can’t really say that I do it for that reason. No, I really cannot say that music has helped my profession except to the extent that it’s helped my disposition and I suppose a happy judge is a better judge.
KAPLAN: All right, the next piece -- it’s the time we turn in the show to what we call the “wildcard” where you have a chance to present some music that is neither opera nor classical music. It can be anything that you like, so what have you brought us today?
SCALIA: Well, what I have brought you, no one would mistake it for either opera or classical. It is the last pop piece, rock piece, that I remember really liking before rock descended into noise and ugliness. I mean, I really cannot listen to modern hard rock and steel guitars and so forth. But this one was musical - it had a cheer and a beat to it. I guess I was a sophomore in college when it came out and I remember it ever since. I could probably still sing most of the words. The name of the piece is “Sh-boom”.
KAPLAN: You sound like an experienced disc jockey.
KAPLAN: “Sh-Boom,” the hit tune from the 1950s performed by The Chords, the “wildcard” selection of my guest today on “Mad About Music,” Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. In talking about “Sh-Boom,” you said there came a time when rock music descended into just noise and ugliness. If you were forced to listen to that music, would that constitute “cruel and unusual punishment” as envisioned in the Constitution?
SCALIA: You know they claim that one of the tortures inflicted upon captured combatants was playing horrible rock music to them while they were in their cells. That would cause me to confess in no time at all.
KAPLAN: You know, most of your selections today, each of them you have a reason for; not necessarily your favorites. So let’s talk about the idea of favorites. Let’s start off with singers at the opera. Who are your favorites who just melt you?
SCALIA: Renée Fleming, I mean, she is just wonderful. Plácido Domingo who just goes on and on and seems to get better and better.
KAPLAN: And what about pianists?
SCALIA: Oh my. You know, I like some of the older pianists. I’m not sure I’m up to date enough on the modern ones. And I’m losing names now. Who is the fellow who used to hum while he played? Famous for Bach.
KAPLAN: Glenn Gould.
SCALIA: Glenn Gould. I love Glenn Gould’s interpretation of Bach. It was really good.
KAPLAN: All right, and then one more category: conductors.
SCALIA: Conductors. Once again, maybe the oldest are the best. I certainly liked Solti very much. You want to talk about opera: Furtwängler - hard to do better than that. I’ll leave it with those. I’m something of a traditionalist. Those whose performances have weathered the test of time are likely to be the best rather than whoever is at the top of the heap currently.
KAPLAN: All right, then let’s come back to your music then and we now turn to the British composer, William Boyce, not terribly well known.
SCALIA: He should be better known. The English music of that age – its Baroque music still. It’s a curious thing, isn’t it, that the Baroque in music antedates by a century, the Baroque in architecture. I mean, when you’re talking Baroque architecture, you’re talking post Renaissance, right? And Baroque music is pre or contemporaneous with the Renaissance. And that was Boyce. He was writing in England. He was, you know, a royal musician. He was the choir director at St. Paul’s. And the English Baroque music at that time has a certain, what should I, a dignity, a pride to it that is very uplifting. That comes through very much in the Symphony No. 1 that I’ve selected for your listeners.
KAPLAN: The concluding movement of William Boyce’s First Symphony performed by The English Concert with Trevor Pinnock on the podium, music chosen by my guest today on “Mad About Music,” Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. You know, it’s impossible to speak with you without always being reminded of the position you hold on the Court which you say is not accurately described by “strict construction” but you know what I mean. And now I’d like to compare the Constitution to a libretto. Many regard a libretto as meaning what it says in the same way that you regard the Constitution meaning just what it says and should be strictly followed. Now there’s a big debate today because some directors freely interpret what the composers ask for. I think you know there was a much debated performance of Puccini’s La Bohème at the Washington Opera where the director took enormous liberties but you were quoted, you – the “strict constructionist” were quoted as saying “I loved it.” And I would have thought that you would have felt the opera composer deserves the same respect that the Constitution does since you love opera so much.
SCALIA: Well, I mean, one can make a movie out of a book and I’m not sure it disrespects the author if you create a new piece of art. And I thought that that’s what was done in this performance of Bohème. And it did seem strange that the supposed rockbound traditionalist, which is me, actually liked that performance very much, especially the scene, you know, the café scene with “Musetta’s Waltz” which in this production, I mean, they have weird people in this scene. It looks like the bar scene from Star Wars - all sorts of crazy characters. I thought it was wonderful. I thought it just worked beautifully -- whereas on the other hand, Justice Ginsburg hated it. She really did not like it at all and I found that rather strange.
KAPLAN: Complete role reversal.
SCALIA: Role reversal indeed.
KAPLAN: I have always had the idea that someone ought to write an opera about a powerful case at the Supreme Court. And one of those might be the famous Bush v. Gore over the election in Florida. All these strong recitatives would come out; passionate arias. I don’t know if you would agree that would be a good example, but --
SCALIA: Don’t give up your day job to write that one.
KAPLAN: Well I have to put my question to you though. My question is that if you were compelled to pick the composer that ought to write the music for that story, either a contemporary or historical -
SCALIA: Oh my.
KAPLAN: Who would be the right one to illuminate that, sound track it?
SCALIA: Ah well, you know, easy question. You can’t go wrong with Mozart, you know. If you don’t know what it is, Mozart can do it.
KAPLAN: All right, now just because you brought up the contrast between you and Justice Ginsburg, I did ask her the same question when she was on the show and she picked Verdi, so there you are.
SCALIA: Well, she’s more a devotee of opera I suppose than I am. I’m not sure that – I’m sure she likes other music but she is passionate about opera. I like opera, but no more than other music, including chamber music.
KAPLAN: All right. So now we come to the final part of the show which involves a question I put to all guests and it has to do with fantasies, musical fantasies. I have a feeling where you might go with this. So the question is this: if you could be a star in music, would you want to be a singer, composer, conductor, play an instrument? You can even have two wishes.
SCALIA: That’s a very interesting question. What would I like to do? Well, you know, assuming I wouldn’t freeze.
KAPLAN: This is fantasy time now.
SCALIA: Right. Right, assuming I was better than I am. I think I would like to be a singer. I think I would like to be a good tenor -- good tenors are hard to come by. And I think all music ultimately, my father used to say this, ultimately comes down to the human voice. That’s the basis for all the rest.
KAPLAN: And what would be the role do you think for you?
SCALIA: Oh my, what would be the role for me?
SCALIA: I don’t like Turandot. It’s the only Puccini opera that has a stupid book as far as I’m concerned. Rodolfo, you know, I would like that, in Bohème. Yeah, I’ll stick with Bohème.
KAPLAN: And your second wish?
SCALIA: Well, this may seem like a strange answer because it’s something I have never done. I have always thought that I could have been a superb violinist because I feel the violin. I mean, I can bow into certain pieces and so many of the best composers were violinists. There’s something about the violin that is expressive and you can pour your soul into it. It’s also true of course that there’s no such thing as a pretty good violinist. All of my children have had music lessons. One of them had violin lessons and, you know, you can be a pretty good pianist but you can hit the right notes. You can’t be a pretty good violinist. You’re either good or you’re lousy. You have to make the note. The note is not there as it is on the piano. I would have loved to be a violinist and I think I could have done it well.
KAPLAN: And with that, we conclude our special edition of “Mad About Music” focusing on Supreme Court Justices. Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia may be polar opposites in their views on how the Constitution ought to be interpreted but when it comes to music they are in perfect sync. As Justice Ginsburg put it, “We are given to beautiful music and we don’t shy away from admitting that we cry at Puccini.” This is Gilbert Kaplan for “Mad About Music.”
“Mad About Music”
Gilbert Kaplan, Executive Producer
Heidi Bryson, Producer
Marcela Silva, Associate Producer
Leszek Wojcik, Recording Engineer