Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s operatic western escape: Santa Fe

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in a dress rehearsal of Donizetti's "The Daughter of the Regiment" at Washington National Opera.
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, center, as the Duchess of Krakenthorp in a dress rehearsal of Donizetti’s “The Daughter of the Regiment” at the Washington National Opera in Washington, D.C., in 2016.
(Scott Suchman/WNO via AP)

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died at 87 today, was a Washington fixture for 40 years and a New York attorney and professor long before that. But for more than 30 years, when summer recess came, Ginsburg cast her gaze west to Santa Fe.

Beginning in the 1980s, Ginsburg and her husband became summer regulars in Santa Fe, often joined by their children and grandchildren.

Housed in one of Santa Fe's most graceful buildings, the New Mexico Museum of Art dates to 1917.
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

For Ginsburg, the big draw was the Santa Fe Opera, known for its open-air stage at the edge of the mountains, though she also spent a lot of time in museums and galleries. The Santa Fe New Mexican has reported that she also climbed ladders at Bandelier National Monument and visited Abiquiu, the home of the painter Georgia O’Keeffe.


In 2013, the Washington Post caught up with Ginsburg as she enjoyed a summer stay in the city. The jurist, the Post’s Robert Barnes wrote, “considers the Santa Fe Opera the finest summer opera company in the world. For years, first with her late husband, Marty, and now with her children and grandchildren, she spends a week in Santa Fe, in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, and when she returns east she says to herself: ‘What happened to my sky?’ ”

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg at Harvard University on May 29, 2015.
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg at Harvard University on May 29, 2015.
(Stephan Savoia / Associated Press)

On those visits, Barnes wrote, “there are tours of the countryside and hikes in the hills. There is VIP access to the works of Georgia O’Keeffe. There are sumptuous dinners prepared by her daughter, Jane, that last until 2:30 in the morning.”

In 2014, the Santa Fe New Mexican noted that “before each opera performance, Ginsburg usually attends the preview buffet at the Opera Ranch with her entourage, which this year included son James Ginsburg, who heads his own classical record company, Cedille Records, in Chicago; [and] daughter-in-law and soprano Patrice Michaels, a Cedille artist.”

In 2016, the Albuquerque Journal found Ginsburg reading from a picture book to assembled children (and parents) at a United Way event and announcing her admiration for Nancy Drew.

And in 2018, New Mexico radio station KLAQ reported, Ginsburg found herself, as she gingerly made her way to her opera seat, surrounded by a standing ovation.