A Neuroscience Opera in Two Acts
by John G. Bilotta & Jostein Stalheim
Libretto by Oded Ben-Horin & John F. McGrew
Al Hambra Baritone
Rosetta, his student Soprano
Chorus [ The Brain Regions ]
Cortex High voice
Thalamus Medium voice
Hippocampus Low voice
Amygdala High voice
Cerebellum Medium voice
Brain Stem Low voice
Rosetta’s Stone is a collaborative opera
conceived by Norwegian composer and
writer Oded Ben-Horin for a team of
creative artists. The librettists were
Ben-Horin (Norway) and John F. McGrew (US) and the composers were Jostein Stalheim (Norway) and John G. Bilotta (US).
An outgrowth of Ben-Horin’s Write a Science Opera methodology for young students, Rosetta's Stone is envisioned as a neuroscience opera combining the artistic expression of scientific concepts with the drama of one man’s decline into Alzheimer’s. The primary characters are Al, a music professor, and Rosetta, one of his cello students, supported by a
six-voice chorus representing the six primary brain regions.
T h e O p e r a
Rosetta’s Stone opens in the Café of the Mind, a theatrical representation of Al’s brain in which a chorus of brain region “employees” (Cortex, Thalamus, Hippocampus, Amygdala, Cerebellum, and Brain Stem) work in near perfect harmony.
Al and Rosetta meet at the café for lunch. Rosetta marvels at the efficiency and organization of the café staff but by the
end of the scene, she begins to notice a few odd mistakes.
In the following scene, a music lesson, the focus shifts to Rosetta’s relationship with and concerns about her professor. Hovering in the scene is Hippocampus who steps in to help Al when his memory seems to fail him by coaching him with
words and gestures. Neurobiological research has shown that the hippocampus, which is responsible for memory storage
and retrieval, is the first brain region to be damaged by Alzheimer’s. In the aria, The Hippocampus’ Monologue which closes
the scene, it becomes obvious that it is Hippocampus’ own accelerating destruction by the disease that underlies Al’s
problems and failures.
In the Second Act, they return to the Café of the Mind to find it in complete disarray as the Brain Regions fail one by one,
unable to communicate or work together, mirroring Al's own mental decline. Rosetta senses this and has become more attentive to her professor’s challenges, helping and guiding him herself. She realizes that he is changing, deteriorating,
often unclear and confused.
In the final scene, some time has passed and Rosetta returns to visit her old professor only to find him in the later stages
of the disease, unable to recognize her. She struggles to reach him with the help of music he had taught her as a student
and the Brain Regions struggle to reach her on Al’s behalf but their connection is brief, fading away in a matter of seconds. Rosetta’s Aria closes the opera.