The Opera Veteran Who Continues To Serve: Baritone Robert Orth

Baritone Robert Orth is acclaimed for his singular talent as a singing actor. He has created dozens of roles for world premiere recordings and performances across the country. A few of his career triumphs include Nixon in Nixon in China (in at least eight international productions), Owen Hart in Dead Man Walking (world premiere at San Francisco Opera). He’ll create the role of Charles R. Knight in his next premiere, Rhoda and the Fossil Hunt. We loved hearing Robert’s thoughts about dinosaurs, museums and music.

OSO: Rhoda and the Fossil Hunt will take place in the dinosaur hall at the American Museum of Natural History. Could you share a memorable museum experience from your childhood?

RO: I  was born in Chicago and grew up in Texas and Montana. We came back to Chicago frequently to see relatives. On these visits, we often went to the Field Museum of Natural History where I loved visiting the dinosaurs and the mummies and the taxidermy.

OSO: Are there any ways in which you’re like the character you play in the show?

RO: I am a grandfather, and I like to draw and paint.

OSO: What ice cream flavor do you most hope to eat at the ice cream social following the Sept. 23rd performance, and why?

RO: Burnt Almond Fudge. Why? It’s delicious and doesn’t have any meat or vegetables in it.

OSO: Is this show or role unique for you in any way? If so, how?

RO: Many of the old men I play are bitter, angry, curmudgeonly, alcoholic, or some combination of those. Mr. Knight is a kind and loving grandfather – a real stretch for me.

OSO: Have you done other site-specific productions before? How is this different for you than a conventional show in an opera house?

RO: I once did an entire Nozze in a shopping mall. But that wasn’t “site-specific”. I expect performing in the Museum will be a little different from an opera house because the audience will be right on top of us.

OSO: What is the craziest or funniest moment you’ve ever experienced onstage?

RO: I was performing Dandini in La Cenerentola in Central City, CO. The opera house was built in 1878. I had just sung my entrance aria, and as the applause died down there was a loud crash and people screamed and began to run from the theater. I had to break character and ask them to remain calm as they exited. Two days of performances were canceled because a large piece of the elaborately painted ceiling had fallen down. Ultimately the whole ceiling had to be removed and replaced. A couple of years later I was given a plaque with 3 pieces of the original ceiling and an engraving that read, “In memory of the night you brought down the house.”

OSO: This is a relatively short show. What is the shortest role you ever sang, and how was that experience?

RO:I’ve done many one-act operas. The challenge is to develop a character in a very short time.

OSO: What future projects are you most excited to sing in the near future?

RO: Terrence Blanchard’s Champion in New Orleans.

OSO: Your character in  Rhoda and the Fossil Hunt was well-known in real life. You’ve played several other iconic characters we study in history, including Richard Nixon. Do you prepare differently for these roles as opposed to a purely fictional story?

RO: Preparation always includes reading. With real-life characters, there’s more to read. And with some – like Nixon – there is even film. And with some – like Charles Knight – one can actually talk to people who knew him. I’m looking forward to talking with the real life Rhoda.

OSO: Are there any other general thoughts about Rhoda and the Fossil Hunt or On Site Opera you’d like to share?

RO: A few years ago I got to premiere composer John Musto’s opera The Inspector. It was terrific and he’s a great guy. So I’m looking forward to working with him again.

For more information on Rhoda and the Fossil Hunt, click here.

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