The study of law can inspire students to make remarkably creative use of their many talents, as Maryland Carey Law alumnus Derrick Wang ’13 has proven. During the spring semester of 2011, Wang was a student in Professor Robert Percival’s first-year Constitutional Law class. He was intrigued by the colorful rhetoric in the opinions of Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the fact that they nearly always were on the opposite sides of the Court’s decisions. After learning that both Justices were huge opera fans, Wang, a talented composer before entering law school, approached Professor Percival with a seemingly crazy idea—to write an opera using the words of both Justices.
Percival introduced Wang to Mike Walker, a lawyer at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and adjunct professor of environmental law at Maryland, who is a member of the Washington National Opera. When Wang and Walker contacted Justices Scalia and Ginsburg to seek their approval for the project, the Justices responded that no approval was needed. Percival then agreed to supervise Wang’s project for independent-study credit. Wang ultimately wrote a remarkable opera whose score is complete with detailed footnotes documenting the origins of its passages.
On Saturday, July 11, Wang’s opera Scalia/Ginsburg had its world premiere at the Castleton Festival in a theater set on a hillside in rural Virginia. Several of Wang’s classmates, who are now Maryland Carey Law alums, joined Walker and Percival in the enthusiastic audience. Justice Ginsburg sat in the front row for the performance, which the audience repeatedly interrupted with applause, cheers and laughter. They were particularly delighted to discover that Wang had updated the opera to include colorful excerpts from Justice Scalia’s most recent dissents, including the word “applesauce.”
A reviewer from The Washington Post called the opera “charming, clever, and amusing,” while noting that it is loaded with insider references with special meaning to lawyers who closely follow the Court. Justice Scalia was out of the country and unable to attend the premier. However, when excerpts from the opera previously were performed at the Court, Scalia was so impressed that he urged Wang to “quit the law and devote yourself to music.”