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.”
MUSICAL CHALLENGES AND REWARDS
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 (soprano)
Charles Knight (AKA Toppy) – Robert Orth (baritone)
Dr. Henry Osborn – Patrick Cook (tenor)
Rhoda understudy – Clara Lisle (soprano)
John Musto, composer
Eric Einhorn, librettist / stage director
Jorge Pardoi, conductor
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 Gallas, clarinet