Academic journal article Journal of Singing

Notorious RBG in Song

Academic journal article Journal of Singing

Notorious RBG in Song

Article excerpt

Notorious RBG in Song. Patrice Michaels, soprano; Kuang-Hao Huang, piano. (Cedille LC 33229; 56:30)

Patrice Michaels: The Long View- A Portrait of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. "Prologue-Foresight," "Celia: An Imagined Letter from Friday, August 12, 1949," "Advice from Morris," "On Working Together," "Anita's Story," "New York, 1961," "The Elevator Thief," "Dissenter of the Universe-Five Opinions and a Comment," "Epilogue-The Long View, Questions Answered." Lori Laitman: "Wider than the Sky." Vivan Fung: "Pot Roast å la RBG." Stacy Garrop: "My Dearest Ruth." Derrick Wang: "You Are Searching in Vain for a Bright Line Solution" (Scalia/Ginsburg).

One of the most vociferous ovations at the recent gala concert of the Richard Tucker Foundation came before a single note of music had been played or sung. During his introductory remarks, Foundation president Barry Tucker (son of the legendary tenor) acknowledged the presence of an important dignitary in the audience, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. There have been guests of comparable stature at previous galas, but none of them was ever accorded this kind of recogni- tion, and the fact that it occurred during such a bitterly divided time in our nation's history made it seem all the more remarkable. Of course, one need not align with Justice Ginsburg's political or philosophic outlook to appreciate the courage and tenacity of this three-time cancer survivor who has juggled the competing professional and personal responsibilities of her life with uncommon skill and grace. The ovation also may have had something to do with the fact that she happens to be a passionate champion of the arts and an ardent opera fan who has actually made more than one cameo appearance on the opera stage. What is beyond dispute is that Justice Ginsburg is one of the most significant figures before the public today.

Notorious RBG in Song might appear to be a dramatic departure from past Cedille recordings because of its focus on someone who is neither a musician nor based in Chicago. It is true that all of the songs on this disk pay tribute to Ruth Bader Ginsburg in one way or another and it is her image that adorns the cover. However, this release is first and foremost a showcase for soprano Patrice Michaels, one of the most important mainstays in the label's stable of artists and a singer whose superb work has been featured in more than a dozen previous releases. What is most noteworthy about her most recent recording is that it is the first time we are encountering Patrice Michaels both as a singer and as a composer; fans of the soprano will be delighted to know that it is a most auspicious debut.

The project, which James Ginsburg describes in the producer's notes as "a labor of love on so many levels," actually began when he and his sister commissioned three composers to pen songs for the celebration they were planning for their mother's 80th birthday in 2013. The excitement and goodwill generated by those first three songs eventually led to this full tribute. One of those songs, Patrice Michael's "Anita's Story," became the starting point for what eventually became the major work that opens this disk. The Long View-A Portrait of Ruth Bader Ginsburg reveals Michaels to be an able and innovative composer with something fresh and new to say. She has chosen to pay musical tribute to Justice Ginsburg (who happens to be her mother-in-law) by setting nine different texts, most of which come from important people in Justice Ginsburg's life. They are drawn from various sources such as letters, spoken remarks, and informal conversations, and none of them are the slightest bit poetic in the most common sense of the word. In other words, most of these texts would not seem to cry out to be set to music. Nevertheless, that is what Patrice Michaels has done and she has managed to achieve a surprising and gratifying success.

The work's epilogue features an excerpt from a letter written back in 1943 by legendary Supreme Court Justice William O. …

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