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Supreme performance: Justices take stage at opera

From Yvonne S. Lee

The justices looked as if they had walked right off the bench onto the Washington Opera stage.
The justices looked as if they had walked right off the bench onto the Washington Opera stage.

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Three U.S. Supreme Court Justices make cameo appearances in a performance of the 'Die Fledermaus' opera (September 7)
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Anthony Kennedy played a role in the opening night of the Washington Opera's 2003-2004 season Saturday night, at the DAR Constitution Hall.

They came on stage during the raucous party scene in Johann Strauss Jr.'s comedic opera "Die Fledermaus," about mistaken identities and romantic temptations at the hands of a friend seeking revenge.

Wearing judicial robes, they were introduced as distinguished guests of Prince Orlofsky. Except for a colorful fan carried by Justice Ginsburg, they looked as if they had walked right off the bench onto the stage.

The justices sat on stage while they were treated to performances by tenor Placido Domingo, who is also the Washington Opera's director, and other distinguished singers.

They decided to participate in the event after the president of the Washington Opera, Michael Sonnenreich, wrote them, offering parts that required no rehearsal.

It was Ginsburg's second appearance with the Washington Opera: She was an extra in the January 1994 production of "Ariadne auf Naxos" with Justice Antonin Scalia.

At a gala ball held after Saturday night's opera at the Organization of American States, the justices sat down for an interview with CNN. All three are supporters of the opera.

"We think it's very important that people who never come to the opera come," Breyer said. "And if they have children, get their children to come. And there are lots of seats, particularly for the children, that aren't too expensive. And if they came to see it, it wouldn't be a forbidding thing. It would just get to them and they would love it and they'd come again."

Kennedy concurred saying: "We think it's important that America understand the strength it has in the arts as well as the sciences. We have to show the rest of the world that this is a civilization of great attainments and great accomplishments. And you see that here tonight."

Although they appreciate the opera and have sung before, Breyer and Ginsburg say they are not great singers themselves.

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"When I was 12, I was in the San Francisco Opera as a brown soldier in 'Boris Godunov,' " Breyer said. "I mean I couldn't sing. But nonetheless I was paid a dollar. I was a super. I think I've risen in the super world."

"When I was in grammar school, the class sometimes sang things like 'Good morning to you,' " Breyer said. "But they used to ask me just to mouth the words. ... I'm not sure that was a compliment."

If she were not a judge, Ginsburg would have chosen to be an opera singer.

"If I could have any talent God could give me, I would be a great diva," she said. "But unfortunately I can only sing in the shower and in my dreams."

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