Over the past month, the students of Trevose Day School and Neshaminy Montessori, located at 4951 Central Ave., Feasterville-Trevose, have had a little something extra incorporated into their curriculum – arts and culture.
Rehearsals began in May for the schools’ fourth original opera The Fisherman & the Genie, which was written by music director Charis Bean Duke and performed for family and friends on Thursday, June 6, and Friday, June 7.
As loved ones flocked inside the school, they were instantly transported to the seaside of ancient Persia, with intricate backdrops (designed by Jordan Ramsey) depicting a soothing water scene. Meanwhile, Duke (piano), Susan Spevak (flute) and Elizabeth Perry (violin) played enjoyable instrumental pieces as the crowd took their seats.
According to Duke, her decision for selecting The Fisherman & the Genie for this year’s opera was thoughtfully made.
“The inspiration behind this was my desire to share with children important bits of literature that they might not know. This particular story is from the 1,001 Arabian Nights, and so I pick stories that I think should be part of the mass consciousness,” Duke said, adding how she conducted research with Persian friends and listened to Persian music to make the production as culturally accurate as possible. “There’s Persian melodies in the opera just to give it a little bit of flavor.”
The Fisherman & the Genie took place “once upon a time” in Persia, and followed the Fisherman, played by Joey Milillo, who was unable to provide enough clothing and food for his wife (Mia Gorshenin) and children. Their dire situation was made evident in the opening song “We’re Going to Starve.”
Milillo shined in this starring role. With his soft vocals and humble stage presence, it was easy to believe his portrayal of the struggling Fisherman.
Determined to do better for his family, the Fisherman went fishing with his friends, both of whom were standouts in the show. During the song “Our Friend’s in Trouble,” Pasha Ukhanov and Zachary Darvas, who played Zubin and Amir, respectively, got extremely into their roles, boasting strong voices and impeccable comedic timing.
During their fishing excursion, the friends were joined by the ensemble for the earworm-inducing “Throw the Nets.” Though the Fisherman believed he only caught a bunch of junk in his net, one particular item – an old bottle he pulled from the water – changed his life forever.
When he rubbed the bottle a few times to clean it, a Genie (played by Valerie Snitko) appeared, informing the Fisherman she had waited 300 years to be rescued. But unlike the charming Genie from Disney’s Aladdin, who grants him three wishes, she had something else in mind.
“I am the Genie of the jar, tell me how you wish to die,” she said to the Fisherman.
Clearly, she was not thrilled about being stuck in a bottle for so long.
Snitko was yet another standout in the opera. Using her powerful voice and humorously sassy demeanor, she gave the Fisherman a few death options to choose from – being thrown from a cliff, fed to a shark or given the measles – which received rounds of laughter from the audience.
The Fisherman was forced to decide his fate by the following morning. Instead, he cleverly found a way to trick the Genie back into her bottle. At this point, the previously confident Genie panicked, and promised to make the Fisherman rich if he let her out. He obliged, and the Genie led him to a magic lake with red, blue, white and yellow fish, for which the King of Persia paid the Fisherman good money.
The fish were played by the school’s youngest students, who made quick but adorable appearances while donning colorful costumes designed by Erika Duszny.
The performance concluded with the full-cast number “Dearest Fisherman,” which saw the entire school singing, “Blue, red, white and yellow, you will be a wealthy fellow” in perfect unison. After, head of school Gwynne Frischmann led them all in a well-deserved final bow.
“It all pulls together in a month and we don’t even practice every day,” she told the audience. “They have worked so hard.”
Duke was equally pleased with the finished product, and expressed her wish that each child took something valuable away from the experience.
“I just think it’s important for children, even at a very young age, to get up and create. Hopefully, if you start them out as a tiny fish as a 3-year-old, by the time they’re 8 they can sing in the chorus, and by the time they’re 10 they can have a solo,” Duke said. “Having a way to create and express is one of the best outlets we can give them for the hard times and the things they’re going to go through. I’m just trying to encourage that. It doesn’t matter if they’re ever going to become musicians. What matters is they found they have a voice, and their voice is good.” ••
Samantha Bambino can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org