March 06, 2019

Dinosaurs + Opera? You Bet! Lyric Unlimited Presents RHODA AND THE FOSSIL HUNT

Kids love dinosaurs. They also love young protagonists with whom they can relate. The Chicago-area premiere of Rhoda and The Fossil Hunt, a new opera for young people, brings those elements together engagingly this fall in weekday performances for students and weekend performances for families.

Lyric Unlimited’s Opera in the Neighborhoods tour to Chicagoland schools started October 15 and runs through November 16, engaging nearly 20,000 area students grades 3-6 with 30 performances in 15 school venues. Public performances will take place on Saturday, November 10 and Sunday, November 11 – a great opportunity for adults to share an opera adventure with the youngsters in their lives. 

Rhoda and the Fossil Hunt takes place about a century ago in New York’s Natural History Museum. A brand-new dinosaur has been discovered and Charles R. Knight (also known as Toppy), the famous naturalist artist, must paint it to bring these ancient creatures to life for museum visitors. The only problem is that he’s missing a few key fossils to accurately complete his painting. Fortunately his granddaughter, Rhoda, comes to the rescue! As Rhoda overcomes obstacles and meets various museum friends – including a T-Rex and a Neanderthal – to get the fossils her grandfather needs, she learns that she’s a force to be reckoned with.

This lively contemporary opera for young audiences is inspired by real people and true events. Charles Knight (1874-1953) was a renowned naturalist artist who worked for legendary paleontologist Dr. Henry Osborn (1857-1935), the president of the American Museum of Natural History, who is also featured in the opera. Knight is best known for his paintings of dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals, reproduced in books and displayed at major museums throughout the United States. On weekends, Knight's granddaughter Rhoda visited the museum to spend time with him and watch him work. Many curators argued that Knight’s work was more artistic than scientific, claiming that he didn’t have sufficient scientific expertise to render prehistoric animals as precisely as he did. While Knight himself agreed that his murals were "primarily a work of art," he insisted that he had as much paleontological knowledge as the museum's own curators.

Rhoda and the Fossil Hunt features music by John Musto and libretto by Eric Einhorn, is performed by four cast members and three instrumentalists, and lasts about 40 minutes. "Lyric Unlimited is excited to present this new opera, created especially for families with children ages 7 to 12,” says Cayenne Harris, vice president of Lyric Unlimited. “Introducing children to the art form of opera using a story that is relevant to today's audiences is an important part of our mission."

Set designer Arnel Sancianco incorporated Knight’s original artwork into the production. As Rhoda explores the museum, the set scrolls through a series of images of the different exhibits in which Rhoda finds herself. “The big overarching theme of the piece is looking at how art and science are really connected,” says stage director and librettist Eric Einhorn, who is also the founder-director of On Site Opera. 

Watch exclusive video content about the creation of the show below:

Rhoda and the Fossil Hunt sponsors

Educational partner

Rhoda and the Fossil Hunt is a co-production with On Site Opera and the Pittsburgh Opera. The extended edition of the opera is commissioned by Lyric Opera of Chicago.

Major support provided by the Nancy W. Knowles Student and Family Performances Fund. Rhoda and the Fossil Hunt and Opera in the Neighborhoods are supported by Lead Sponsor J. Christopher and Anne N. Reyes and cosponsors an Anonymous Donor (3), Brent and Katie Gledhill, Robert and Evelyn McCullen, the Sage Foundation, the Donna Van Eekeren Foundation, Roberta L. and Robert J. Washlow, Jane Wilson and David Mayhew Stone Charitable Trust, and Wintrust Community Banks.

Lyric Unlimited Chicago Public Schools Bus Scholarships are supported by the U.S. Bank Foundation.

Photos: Kyle Flubacker