A royal performance

Local elementary students perform the opera, ‘The 12 Princesses’

By Samantha Bambino

The Times

It was no ordinary day at Trevose Day School earlier this month. Princesses raced through the halls while a soldier belted out a song, and the spacious barn outside was completely transformed into a royal castle. After a month of preparation, the day had finally arrived for the students to perform the opera, The 12 Princesses.

Like a fairy tale: Students perform the opera, The 12 Princesses, at Trevose Day School. The 12 Princesses was adapted from a Brothers Grimm tale by opera director Charis Duke, who worked with the students over a span of a month. SAMANTHA BAMBINO / TIMES PHOTO

Since early May, Charis Duke worked with all of the students three days a week to perfect each song and dance for Trevose Day School and Neshaminy Montessori’s second opera. Duke joined the staff three years ago as the opera director to help implement the school’s mission of integrating the arts into the curriculum.

“Studies suggest schoolchildren exposed to drama, music and dance are more proficient in reading, writing and math,” said head of school Gwynne Frischmann. “It is also great for their confidence and presentation skills. We see students shine while performing who might otherwise be very shy in the classroom.”

The 12 Princesses was originally a Brothers Grimm tale. In the story, the princes end up getting killed, so Duke adapted it into a more child-friendly version, writing original music and lyrics. According to Duke, all of the students learned these new songs extremely quickly.

“It’s one of the most rewarding things having children learn and sing your songs. I would hear them spontaneously singing them in their classes,” she reflected.

During preparation for the performance, all of the students from pre-K through fifth grade were able to get involved. From helping to design the costumes to creating the sets in art class with Jordan Romney, they got a true taste of the world of theater.

On the big day, the barn was packed with loved ones waiting to see not just any old school play, but an original opera their child helped create. When the music began with Duke on piano, Colleen Rumph on violin and Susan Spevak on flute, the 12 princesses scuttled into the barn and gathered in front of the painted stone fireplace, giving the illusion of a medieval castle.

Students shine on stage: The 12 Princesses was originally a Brothers Grimm tale. In the story, the princes end up getting killed, so opera director Charis Duke adapted it into a more child-friendly version. According to Duke, all of the students learned these new songs extremely quickly. SAMANTHA BAMBINO / TIMES PHOTO

The plotline centered around the princesses, the king and queen’s daughters, who kept waking each morning to find their shoes full of holes. Princes were called to their distant land to try to solve the mystery, but because of the trickery of the princesses, they kept falling asleep. Finally, a soldier receives some words of wisdom from an old woman, and is able to crack the case.

It was evident from the start how hard each student worked to put on the best show possible, with many having no formal theater training. Anton Hall played a King who commanded the stage while Stella Tirendi portrayed the graceful and wise Old Woman. A standout performance by Alex Mingioni had the audience singing along as he belted out a catchy solo number while seated on a set of stairs. Even the preschoolers had time in the spotlight as the silver, gold and diamond trees.

Despite weeks of practice and three full dress rehearsals the day before, excitement still radiated through the halls after the show with the students reminiscing on their favorite parts.

“I loved the songs and how intricate the costumes were,” said David Sheppard, who played the Guard.

“It was a lot of practice but we learned the princess songs in just a few weeks,” chimed in Gabriella Cherian, one of the 12 Princesses.

As for playing the powerful King, Hall can now breathe a sigh of relief.

“I was just trying not to trip over my cape,” he said. ••