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An Opera Opening Night That Doubled as a Birthday Party for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (Photos)

The black-tie birthday soiree was held after the opening of “Norma” at the Kennedy Center.

The cast of Norma with Clarice Smith, in the center, the production’s major funder. On the left is Angela Meade and on the right Dolora Zajick. Photograph by Carol Ross Joynt.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is a major fan of the Washington National Opera, and the WNO is a major fan of hers. This mutual appreciation society convened on Saturday night at the Kennedy Center for the opening night of Bellini’s Norma, which was followed by a black-tie buffet supper to celebrate Ginsburg’s 80th birthday. The company presented her with an ecru-colored silk shawl, handmade by the opera’s costume artisans, which had significance because similar shawls are used throughout the production.

The opera’s executive director, Michael Mael, presented the shawl to Ginsburg at her table, along with a small chocolate cupcake with one candle. As the justice walked to the podium to make brief remarks, she wrapped herself in the shawl, clearly delighted with the gift. She told the guests one of her joys has been to see the Washington National Opera become “greater” each year. “Its best years are still ahead,” she said. When Ginsburg returned to her seat the WNO had another surprise gift for her: a solo serenade by tenor Corey Evan Rotz, who sang the aria “You Are My Heart’s Delight” from a 1920s operetta.

After the birthday hoopla there was still more to come, because it was time to give another round of applause to the cast, crew, and benefactors who made Norma possible. Artistic director Francesca Zambello, standing on the crimson carpet at a Plexiglas podium just outside the door to the president’s box, called them one by one to join her onstage, beginning with the production crew and ending with, of course, the star, Angela Meade. In true diva fashion, Meade appeared from the wings of the box tier terrace and walked across the room, smiling broadly as she accepted one more standing ovation. They were joined by Clarice Smith, a longtime WNO patron who provided the major funding for the production.

Though not officially critics, the 125 invited guests at the supper were uniformly ecstatic about the production and the cast, predicting big things for Meade and swooning over her costars, Dolora Zajick, who plays Agaldisa and has a few memorable duets with Meade; Rafael Davila, who plays Pollione; Mauricio Miranda, who is Flavio; Dmitry Belosselskiy (Oroveso); and Julia Mintzer (Clotilde). “It’s the best of all the operas I’ve seen here,” said Dede Feinberg, whose husband, Kenneth, is a member of the board of trustees. At the same table, James Spellman said, “It’s amazing to see so many young American opera singers this gifted.” Dwight Owsley, an opera singer visiting from New York, was just as enthusiastic. He talked about the strenuous nature of the roles played by Meade and Zajick. We wanted to know when an opera singer eats to have the energy for three hours of stage work. “Now, after the show,” he said, “but never before, and never on the day of a performance.”

It’s good, then, that there were two buffet tables, with salad, meats, fish, vegetables, pasta, and a full bar, and that the singers have two days off. They perform Norma again on Tuesday evening and on several other dates through the month of March.

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