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World Premiere of John Musto’s “Rhoda and the Fossil Hunt” at the AMNH

On Site Opera presents a world premiere, site-specific opera for family audiences with music by John Musto and libretto by Eric Einhorn.

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‘Rhoda and the Fossil Hunt’ Was a Huge Success!

Posted on November 14, 2017 by On Site Opera

Thank you to everyone who joined On Site Opera between the T-Rex and the Apatosaurus at the American Museum of Natural History for the World Premiere production of ‘Rhoda and the Fossil Hunt’ by John Musto, with libretto by Eric Einhorn.


One of the things that made this production so special was its ability to introduce new audiences to opera. At every performance, the audience was full of 500-1,000 curious audience members from age 2 months to 102, many of whom had never before experienced an opera. At 20 minutes in length, the performances were a perfect match for opera neophytes, while the composition and performances were meaty enough to challenge the most ardent opera followers. The performances were free with museum admission, inviting any interested museum goers to stop by and engage with the performance. And engage they did! Under the guidance of director Eric Einhorn the opera was staged to make full use of the dinosaur hall, inviting the audience  to travel around the room with young ‘Rhoda’ on her quest for dinosaur fossils. More often than not, the singers interacted directly with the audience as they presented a prop dinosaur claw, asked for audience input, and journeyed through the space together – all while singing complex arias.

“More than a fun concept, I was impressed with how clear the singing came across over the excited murmuring of the parents and children, which was dense given the modest size of the hall. Though geared for a slightly different audience, this was an opera through and through, and it was skillfully handled by production company On Site Opera.”
– Operawire


Site-specific opera always presents a host of challenges and ‘Rhoda’ was no exception. Composer John Musto and librettist / director Eric Einhorn worked together on this opera since the conceptual phase, taking into consideration the acoustics and physicality of the space as much as the opera’s story. The score was composed for a chamber ensemble of seven instruments to work within the physical and acoustic limitations of the space. To make full use of the hall, director Eric Einhorn staged the piece to move from one end of the room to the other, which composer John Musto accommodated in the score by dropping specific instruments in and out at key moments, allowing the players to relocate. 

The singers experienced a number of challenges as well, from small children tugging at their costumes to unsuspecting museum visitors standing directly in the path of action. Being consummate professionals who are also eager to engage new audiences through site-specific opera, the singers leaned right into the challenges presented before them and delivered energetic performances with soaring clarity to transfixed eyes and ears. Without exception, the singers and musicians cherished the opportunity to perform so intimately with the audience, and to invite old and new opera goers to experience opera in a new way.


“Composer John Musto and librettist/director Eric Einhorn managed to pack scientific inquiry and youthful wonder into a lively, 20-minute opera for three singers and a small instrumental ensemble… the setting—right between the museum’s gigantic T. Rex and Apatosaurus mounted dinosaurs—couldn’t have been more spectacular.”
– The Wall Street Journal

Rhoda – Jennifer Zetlan
Charles Knight (AKA Toppy) – Robert Orth
Dr. Henry Osborn – Patrick Cook
Rhoda understudy – Clara Lisle

John Musto,
Eric Einhorn,
librettist / stage director
Jorge Pardoi,
Robert Kahn,
associate conductor
Summer Lee Jack, costume designer
Sydney E. Schatz, prop designer

American Modern Ensemble, featuring:
Max Moston, violin I
Victoria Paterson, violin II
Phillip Payton, viola
Dave Eggar, cello
Roger Wagner, bass
Sato Moughalian, flute
Nicholas Gallasclarinet


On Site Opera (OSO) announces the world premiere of Rhoda and the Fossil Hunt, a new site-specific opera for family audiences with music by John Musto and libretto by Eric Einhorn. Co-commissioned and co-produced with Lyric Opera of Chicago’s Lyric Unlimited and Pittsburgh Opera, Rhoda and the Fossil Hunt is based on the real-life experiences of Rhoda Knight Kalt and her trips to the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) with her grandfather Charles R. Knight, the famous naturalist artist who was commissioned to create paintings and sculptures of prehistoric creatures – many still on display at the AMNH today.

Audiences will join Rhoda in Hall of Saurischian Dinosaurs (home of the T-Rex!) as she goes on a hunt for missing fossils around the hall, while learning about the interconnectedness of creativity and science. Rhoda and the Fossil Hunt will be featured in a month-long performance residency at the AMNH during September/October of 2017, where all museum attendees will get to experience the opera free-of-charge as part of their museum admission.

In 2018/2019, the opera will travel to Chicago and Pittsburgh through co-productions with Lyric Opera of Chicago’s Lyric Unlimited and Pittsburgh Opera.

NYC Performance Details

September 23rd – October 15th
Fridays at 11:00am
Saturdays and Sundays at 12:00pm and 2:30pm

at the American Museum of Natural History
Performances are FREE with museum admission

Project Media

Rain Octet from John Musto’s “Later the Same Evening”
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Features: John Musto

John Musto’s opera “Later the Same Evening” is based on a series of paintings by American artist Edward Hopper. “Rhoda and the Fossil Hunt” is also inspired by paintings, those of Charles R. Knight. Musto is able to create striking operatic drama using visual art as his foundation. The excerpt also illustrates Musto’s talent at evocative vocal writing and clear setting of English text.

Excerpt from Shostakovich’s “The Tale of the Silly Baby Mouse” at The Bronx Zoo

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Features: On Site Opera

Shostakovich’s “The Tale of the Silly Baby Mouse” was presented by On Site Opera between animal enclosures at the Bronx Zoo. It told the story of Baby Mouse, who refused to go to sleep, and all of the neighborhood animals who tried to help. The scope, length, and required forces of the opera were inspirational when devising the “Rhoda and the Fossil Hunt.” The excerpt shows how On Site Opera produces immersive experiences for family audiences, and the high level of enjoyment for both children and their families.

Start and End Dates



New York, New York

1 update
Last update on November 14, 2017

Project Created By

New York, New York
On Site Opera produces site-specific operas in non-traditional venues throughout New York City (and beyond!). By staging each opera in an environment specific to the piece, OSO surrounds the audience and artists in the music and drama of the story, amplifying the connection between the world of the opera and the reality of the audience.

In Collaboration With

Librettist & Stage Director


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