Wednesday, October 4, 2017

An Operatic Play Date with Dinosaurs

Rhoda and the Fossil Hunt
On Site Opera
The American Museum of Natural History
September 29, 2017

A play date with Rhoda and in the hall of dinosaurs
Photo credit: American Museum of Natural History, R. Micken
Composer John Musto and librettist Eric Einhorn have teamed up to bring a delightful little family friendly one-act opera to the American Museum of Natural History. At roughly twenty minutes in length, Rhoda and the Fossil Hunt tells the story of a real life little girl who nurtured a fondness for her grandfather who was a real life pioneer in the field of paleontology.

Rhoda's favorite place in the whole world
Photo credit: R. Micken
When the opera begins in the Hall of Saurischian Dinosaurs, we are introduced to the inquisitive eight year-old Rhoda who adores nothing more than spending time at the Museum of Natural History. By the looks of the large crowd of children who hung on her every word, she is not alone in her love of the place. The kids were all thrilled to be there, particularly in the dinosaur wing. The whole spectacle really warmed the heart.

Rhoda then took us to see her grandfather Charles Robert Knight who was about to begin work on a new commission from the museum director, Dr. Henry Osborn. A new fossil has been unearthed and they need Rhoda’s help to bring the creature to life by putting together the pieces of its skeleton and completing an illustration of what it might have looked like. A real challenge for an eight year old!

Over the course of Rhoda’s struggle to help solve the mystery of what the whole skeleton might look like, she goes through a series of emotions, mostly because she really doesn’t want to disappoint her beloved grandfather and the director of the museum who are both counting on her. She gets down on herself momentarily because it seems like too arduous a task for her meager skills and experience.

But alas, she overcomes with the prodding of the scientists who encourage her to look within. She has everything she needs to overcome the obstacle, they assure her. All she needs to do is marry her imagination to her rational faculties of scientific inference and the answer will be in reach. If it’s that easy, then the opera makes it look like it’s something we all can do!

Rhoda gets her assignment
Photo credit: American Museum of Natural History, R. Micken
Never would I have thought that singing things like “scientific inference” might sound good set to music, but Musto’s score overturned any doubts I might have had. He set the whole thing in a pleasant package for a small chamber orchestra, consisting of half a dozen strings, flute and clarinet, that was pleasing to the ear and inventive. It had peaks of emotional drama that drew on a classical musical vocabulary but also made a foray into a rhythm and bluesy harmony in the climactic trio when the three singers exult having accomplished their mission together, with Rhoda’s heroic help.

Rhoda has to overcome self-doubt
Photo credit: Allegri con Fuoco
The whole show was such a feel good outing that it was hard not to come away with a great big smile on your face. And the kids all seemed to react in much the same way. They scurried around behind Rhoda as she led them from one display case to another where she modeled the behavior of an observant young mind alive in the world.

Rhoda's enthusiasm is infectious
Photo credit: American Museum of Natural History, R. Micken
Soprano Jennifer Zetlan charmingly embodied the curious youngster with a bright-eyed freshness that was quite simply infectious. She has a timeless youthfulness that was fun to watch in action and that really spoke to the kids.

Rhoda and the Fossil Hunt is smart and inspiring and puts on display exactly what the world needs more of right now: demonstrations of the pursuits of the humanities fitting into the work of the hard sciences like a hand in a glove.  

– Lui

The Hall of Saurischian Dinosaurs provides the backdrop
Photo credit: Allegri con Fuoco

No comments:

Post a Comment