Rosetta’s Stone

Rosetta’s Stone –a Neuroscience Opera”

The debut of the first composed sections of «Rosetta’s Stone» was performed at the Fresh Voices festival in San Francisco (summer 2014). In 2015, performances will be realized in collaboration with the Danish opera house, Opera in the Middle.

The neuroscience opera “Rosetta’s Stone” is an artistic representation of the brain and mind. The opera’s libretto, music, structure and design are inspired by the inquiry process which the opera’s creators imagine could lead to clues regarding the neuroscience Rosetta Stone’s character and nature.  The opera is based on scientific guidance and structure provided by Professor Susan Greenfield as well as modern research regarding music’s capacities to reach the consciousness of the Alzheimer’s patient.

 “In 1799, a stone was found near the town of Rosetta, 35 miles northeast of Alexandria in Egypt. Dating back to 200 B.C., this tablet was bilingual: it bore inscription describing the benefactions of the then Pharaoh, Ptolemy V, in two languages, Greek and Egyptian. For the first time, there was a key to extrapolating the meaning of the previously mysterious hieroglyphics of the Egyptian language. What we need now, over two hundred years later, is a neuroscience Rosetta Stone – a system of matching up our senses of consciousness and what we feel with what happens physically in the brain. Only by so doing will we ever have a chance of understanding how a physical brain can be responsible for creating consciousness and the powerful phenomenon of emotion. But there are no obvious clues as to what this neuroscience Rosetta Stone might be.” – Susan Greenfield (2000)[1]

The opera’s Composers are John G. Bilotta (USA) and Jostein Stalheim (Norway). Its librettists are Oded Ben-Horin (Norway) and John F. McGrew (USA).

The following scientific themes were chosen for the opera’s story: 6 specific brain regions (Hippocampus, Cerebellum, Amygdala, Brain Stem, Thalamus and Cortex); neuronal assemblies (the idea that consciousness is generated by active neuronal networks in various brain regions); neurodegenerative disease; the subconscious.  Alzheimer’s was chosen as the neurodegenerative disease which was to provide the libretto’s main dramatic conflict based on the child-like behavior of many advanced Alzheimer’s patients and widespread experience of music practitioners regarding the effectiveness of music in the disease’s treatment.

Dream Aria the Subconscious

Dream Aria – the subconcious, by Linda Crast

The way in which the above-mentioned ideas became integral parts of the opera’s story was by introducing the opera’s main character, Rosetta, a girl, to Al, a music professor who is living with early phases of Alzheimer’s disease. A generation later, Rosetta is a young woman, while Al is succumbing to advanced phases of the disease. Libretto phrases and musical motives previously used by Rosetta during her childhood are now taken over by the patient who has become the “child”. Opera characters representing the patient’s brain regions and which are affected by the disease, namely, the Hippocampus and, later, the Cortex, will at this advanced phase of the disease cease to communicate, impacting other regions indirectly.

Opera Costume _1 Opera Costume_2

«Costume conceptualizations» by Nene Humphrey, USA

The approach to integrating the “neuronal assembly” concept in the opera was to invite several composers and librettists to create the opera, thus embedding network communication into the opera’s fabric, and designing a distributed creativity process in which no single individual determines the outcome of a non-individualistic creative effort.

Synopsis: The opera takes place in the café “Rosetta’s Stone”, a theatrical representation of Al’s brain, in which “employees” work in perfect harmony. The Brain Regions present a collective question in Al’s mind, which Al, in turn, uses to challenge Rosetta during her music lesson. Years later, Rosetta discovers that Al is changing, deteriorating, becoming childish and unclear. The Hippocampus announces the early phases of Alzheimer’s disease, followed by a chaotic relationship between herself and the Cortex. Srfs is worried, though Rosetta pretends all is well. When Al, succumbing to later phases of the disease, ceases to recognize Rosetta, she reaches his memory with the help of music which he himself taught her in her childhood. Srfs presents Rosetta’s Stone.

 [1] Greenfield, S. (2000).The Private Life of the Brain. New York: John Wiley & Sons

Performances of the opera «Rosetta’s Stone» in the USA (2015):

February, 2015:  Baritone Andrew R. White, from the Univ. of Nebraska, will give a couple of performances of the aria «Hippocampus Monologue» in New Jersey at new music concerts being coordinated by the composer William Vollinger.

March, 2015:  Cellist Eric Gaenslen will perform the etude from Rosetta’s Stone in Los Altos, California, at a NACUSA Spring concert (National Association of Composers USA).

July 10-11, 2015: Goat Hall Productions’ Fresh Voices XV Festival in San-Francisco will present Scene 4 of Rosetta’s Stone.