A Loving Tribute in Song to “Notorious RBG”

Review by: David Hurwitz


Artistic Quality: 9

Sound Quality: 10

This is a difficult production to review, not just because Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has become such a significant figure in modern American life, but because the range of her achievements–whether as a jurist or as a wife, mother, opera maven, attorney, professional colleague and feminist icon–resists purely musical treatment. That’s not a reason to hesitate in offering her this lovingly produced tribute. Like RBG herself, who responded to the notion that women had no place in the legal profession by going ahead and doing it anyway, Cedille General Manager Jim Ginsburg (her son) and singer Patrice Michaels (her daughter-in-law) have taken the plunge with evident gusto.

The main item here is The Longview, an imposing portrait of RBG in nine songs composed by Michaels for voice and piano in an attractive, post-modern tonal idiom. There are vivid and beautiful numbers here, especially the central Anita’s Story, a wonderful tale of the power of Ginsburg’s words to change a life; but for many listeners the main interest will lie in the eighth song’s quotations of Ginsburg’s own legal opinions. Imagine setting this to music to get an idea of what Michaels is up to: “I have said before and reiterate here that only an ostrich could regard the supposedly neutral alternatives as race unconscious.” What results from this effort is not so much a conventional song cycle as a theater piece–I could readily imagine it staged, particularly as Michaels, whose voice is hardly conventionally beautiful but whose intelligent artistry is beyond question, performs it here.

The remainder of the program consists of four songs by four different composers, all inspired by RBG’s life and legend. Vivian Fung’s “Pot Roast à la RBG” is the most amusing; Stacy Garrop’s “My Dearest Ruth”, a love letter written by husband Martin Ginsburg from his death bed, is the most touching. I suspect that more than a few tears were shed both here and elsewhere during this project. Through it all, Michaels receives ideally sensitive support from pianist Kuang-Hao Huang, while Cedille’s engineering, as usual, is first class. The final impression that emerges is a portrait of a family as much as of an individual–a very remarkable family indeed. I suspect that RBG may regard this as her greatest achievement of all.

Buy Now from Arkiv Music

Recording Details:

Reference Recording: None

Works by Patrice Michaels; Lori Laitman; Vivian Fung; Stacy Garrop; Derrick Wang

  • Patrice Michaels (soprano); Kuang-Hao Huang (piano)

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