The curtain rose on Act 2 of "The Daughter of the Regiment," revealing a tiny woman barely visible in a large dome chair with her back to the audience. Suddenly, she swiveled around—and there was Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, reports the AP. Cheers and prolonged applause rang out at the Kennedy Center on Saturday night even before Ginsburg, a life-long opera lover making her official operatic debut, opened her mouth to speak as the imperious Duchess of Krakenthorp. Her character, a non-singing role in Donizetti's frothy 1840 comedy, had come to find out whether the title character, Marie, was worthy of marrying her nephew. Looking frail but determined and wearing an acid green silk dress, the 83-year-old justice read from a crib sheet a series of qualifications that sounded very much like requirements for high political or judicial office. Audience laughter occasionally drowned out her deadpan delivery. Some highlights:
- "The best of the house of Krakenthorp have open but not empty minds. The best are willing to listen and learn. No surprise, then, that the most valorous Krakenthorpians have been women."
- "Applicants seeking a station so exalted must have the fortitude to undergo strict scrutiny. Their character must be beyond reproach."
- Her biggest laugh came when—in apparent reference to birthers—she asked whether Marie could produce a birth certificate and added: "We must take precautions against fraudulent pretenders."
Ginsburg herself wrote her dialogue, in collaboration with Kelley Rourke, dramaturg for the Washington National Opera, which is presenting the new production. In the original version of "La Fille du Regiment," as it is known in French, the duchess has little dialogue, but the role is often taken by comedians or aging singers who improvise their lines. Ginsburg declined to do more than opening night, citing her "day job." Cindy Gold takes over.