Beauty Among Bones – Conductor Jorge Parodi on John Musto’s ‘Rhoda and the Fossil Hunt’

By Logan Martell

“Rhoda and the Fossil Hunt” is set to make its world premiere at the American Museum of Natural History on September 23, 2017, in the Hall of Saurischian Dinosaurs. With this unorthodox venue specifically in mind, accomplished composer John Musto, librettist Eric Einhorn, and production company On Site Opera, all seek to create an experience for families that weds together beauty and scientific inquiry. Operawire was able to talk with conductor Jorge Parodi about his own involvement with the project, its multifaceted creative aspects, and his feelings on world premiering a work from Musto.

Praised internationally for his conducting and coaching, Parodi brings much to this production where experience and imagination is everything. From the Manhattan School of Music’s Faculty Page: “Argentinean conductor Jorge Parodi, reviewed as having ‘the most expressive conducting hands since Stokowski’s’ (New York Daily News), As Music Director of the Senior Opera Theater at Manhattan School of Music, he has conducted productions to critical acclaim. The New York Times praised the recent production of Schubert’s ‘Die Verschworenen’ as ‘superbly performed’ and said of the U.S. premiere of Paisiello’s ‘Nina,’ ‘the opera played beautifully, with graceful music throughout, sonorous choruses and a radiant finale.’ Also at Manhattan School of Music, he has led the Graduate Opera Scenes program and conducted historically informed performances of Cavalli’s ‘La Calisto’ and Monteverdi’s ‘L’incoronazione di Poppea’ at the MSM Summer Voice Festival.”

Powers of Deduction

“Rhoda and the Fossil Hunt” tells the story of Charles R. Knight, who was commissioned to give artistic renderings of dinosaurs through his paintings. Many of Knight’s works are still seen today, and their influence on our current perception of dinosaurs remains strong.  The opera is seen through the eyes of Rhoda, Knight’s 8-year-old granddaughter, who brings childlike wonder to the exhibits she encounters. Parodi, no stranger to artistic interpretation, says of Knight’s process, “Rhoda’s grandfather has created, out of deduction, the look of the dinosaurs without having really any other reference to base his paintings on. So he created the look of them based on real-life animals and it feels like his deduction was quite accurate. Imagine that you had to create the look of a stork with just the bones.”

No easy thing indeed.

In regards to this challenge of envisioning the past, Parodi elaborates, “We were talking with Eric about the conflict in the opera, and the conflict is the search of Rhoda in terms of ‘How should I learn things?’  or ‘How should I solve problems with only half of the information?’ And you have to use your imagination and deductive skills to arrive at a possible solution.”

For the First Time

Known for staging works in non-traditional locations, On Site Opera seeks to maximize the impact of the performance by choosing venues that create a unique environment in which to experience opera.  “I’ve never done a show with them before, it’s my first time,” says Parodi of his involvement with the production company. “They brought me on-board for this part so while I wasn’t part of the workshop I’m very excited to be part of this run of performances. I’ve known Eric [Einhorn] for a long time and we were looking for something to do together and this opportunity arose.”

Going further, Parodi noted a difference that was novel even for On Site Opera. “I think the difference with this piece is that it was conceived for the setting in which it’s being performed. John Musto and Eric Einhorn had this environment in mind and I think that distinction really sets it apart. So while other operas are constantly adapted to fit On Site Opera tradition, this piece is the other way around. This is where the story actually happened; it was created to fit this space.”

Premiering Greatness

Being critically-acclaimed for his compositions in opera and chamber music, it’s not hard to see how great an opportunity it is to work with Musto.

“I’m very happy to be doing this, and one of the main reasons is to be doing a world premiere from a major composer, John [Musto],” Parodi beamed. “So I’m really, really excited to be premiering his music.

“I think it’s great we have this major composer doing something in a non-traditional venue, and I think it fits with the ‘naturality’ of the space. It fits the goals of On Site Opera like a glove, and it’s an exciting creation in every aspect.”

Kids and Adults

Given the world of experience and passion brought by the cast and crew, it’s easy to forget this opera is as much for children as it is for adults. “In a way, it doesn’t feel like a children’s opera,” Parodi muses, “because the music itself, while not very difficult, is not simplistic in any way, which is an exciting part of the score. The main character, Rhoda, addresses the audience as their peer as she guides them, so there is that educational component, but I think there’s always some education involved with performances, and certainly in this piece.”

Ultimately, the message of the story, according to Parodi, is “this idea of science having a lot of imagination and we need to trust our imagination and instinct to discover truth.”

With so much to offer, “Rhoda and the Fossil Hunt” will no doubt entertain, enlighten, and inspire its audiences during its run from September 23rd through October 15th, after which it will travel to Chicago and Pittsburgh.



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