The Supreme Court’s twice-yearly musicales are soaring but usually staid affairs, with some of America’s best classical musical talent performing formally before the justices in the court’s elegant east conference room. 

But at the fall musicale held Nov. 19, two youthful opera stars broke that mold, with spirited performances that engaged and involved some of the justices in the front row seats before them. Instead of being formal, they were downright interactive.

Soprano Ailyn Perez and tenor Stephen Costello, winners of the prestigious Richard Tucker Award for promising performers—and a married couple to boot—were in a playful mood as they sang duets from Puccini’s La boheme and Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore.

At one point Costello serenaded Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on bended knee, to the justice’s delight. Later Costello plopped down next to Justice Antonin Scalia and put his arm around Scalia’s shoulder.

During the Donizetti piece, Costello and Perez gestured toward Scalia as if he were the “other man” luring her away from her husband. She blew kisses at Scalia, and he blew them back. Costello shook his finger at Scalia and later directed the two-finger “I’m watching you” gesture toward Scalia. Scalia responded with a gesture that was impossible to see from behind.

As usual, Ginsburg was the master of ceremonies and impresaria of the event, put on with the help of the Washington Performing Arts Society and the Friends of Music at the Supreme Court. Several dozen guests were in the audience, and in addition to Ginsburg and Scalia, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Anthony Kennedy, Samuel Alito Jr. and Elena Kagan were on hand.

Roberts got in the spirit of the event during closing remarks, musing about what home life might be like for a married operatic couple like Perez and Costello. In a serviceable singing voice, Roberts wondered aloud whether they would sing to each other, “Whose turn is it to do the dishes?” Roberts thanked Ginsburg for her work putting on the musicales, and said they have a soothing “Ginsburg effect” on the justices, akin to the so-called “Mozart effect” in which playing Mozart music was said to reduce stress.

Tony Mauro can be contacted at