NEA Arts Magazine

Honoring Opera Supremely


Ruth Bader Ginsburg in profile at the podium

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg speaking at the special luncheon for the NEA Opera Honors recipients. Photo by Michael G. Stewart

How does one prepare to be feted at the first ever NEA Opera Honors? Honorees Carlisle Floyd, Richard Gaddes, and Leontyne Price kicked off the festivities with a visit to the Supreme Court where they were the guests of honor at a luncheon hosted by Associate Justices -- and opera afficionados -- Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Anthony Kennedy, and Antonin Scalia. Joining the luncheon were Chairman Gioia, OPERA America President and CEO Marc Scorca, and 11 members of the NEA's National Council on the Arts. During the festivities Price treated the audience to a surprise performance of "Un bel di" from Madama Butterfly. Also on the program was a presentation of presidential letters of congratulation and tributes to each of the honorees by composer William Bolcom, NCA member Terry Teachout, and former NCA member Mary Costa.

Here is an excerpt from the luncheon's opening remarks by Justice Ginsburg, who also took the stage at the evening celebration.

When Dana Gioia asked Justice Scalia, Justice Kennedy, and me to host this pre-NEA Opera Honors awards lunch, I took a cue from Nancy Reagan and just said, "Mais oui, Ja Ja, si, si." Opera has been my particular passion since age 11. Among memorable moments in my senior years: my debut as a super, together with Justice Scalia, in the WNO production of Ariadne auf Naxos; and my appearance with Justice Kennedy, a few seasons later, as opening night guests at Prince Orlofsky's Ball in the second act of [Die] Fledermaus.

Cheers to NEA for giving us cause to celebrate four of the brightest stars in the world of opera. . . . I have attended Santa Fe Opera performances every summer during Richard Gaddes's general director tenure, and thank him for many enchanted evenings. He has made Santa Fe the very best venue for summer opera in the U.S.A. No contemporary American composer of opera is better known, and rightly so, than Carlisle Floyd. Washington, DC audiences have been captivated by WNO's productions of his Susannah and Of Mice and Men. I can hardly describe the pleasure Leontyne Price's glorious voice has given me and legions of others at the Met and on opera stages everywhere. My husband and I had the great good fortune to be at the Met for the double debut of Leontyne Price and Franco Corelli. It was a Trovatore like no other we have attended.