Serinette. 'Festival opera' in two acts, music by Harry Somers, libretto by James Reaney. It was commissioned with the support of the Canada Council and the OAC for the tenth season (1990) of Music at Sharon, and designed specifically for production in the Temple of the Children of Peace. Developed in a two-week workshop culminating in a single concert performance at the Temple 25 Jun 1989, it received its full premiere there 7 Jul 1990, ran for nine performances, and was broadcast on CBC radio's 'Saturday Afternoon at the Opera' 6 Oct 1990. The production - conducted by Victor Feldbrill, directed by Keith Turnbull, and designed by Sue LePage - was later reported to have 'surpassed 80 per cent capacity' attendance (Globe and Mail, 17 Aug 1990), an exceptional record for a new work.
Reaney's libretto (Toronto 1990), is based on characters and events of Upper Canada in the early 1800s. The Family Compact conflicts (political and religious), the Ridout-Jarvis duel, and the establishment of a utopian farm community at Sharon by David Willson are all historical, but the story's central figure, Colin Jarvis, 'younger brother' of the historical Samuel Jarvis, is fictitious. The mechanical bird imported from Europe by the Toronto Jarvis family becomes a symbol of the cultural yearnings of a colonial society gradually learning, as Reaney puts it, to 'sing its own song.' The work calls for 14 singer-actors, most of whom play multiple roles, and a 12-piece chamber orchestra. The original staging utilized both the exterior and interior of the Temple: each act started with the performers and audience processing into the building, while the finale was played and sung inside the candle-lit Temple with the spectators observing from the grounds outside.
Somers' score frequently evokes the hymn tunes, favorite secular airs, and band numbers typical of 19th-century Upper Canada, sometimes by actual quotations. The form alternates action scenes (episodes advancing the plot) with more ceremonial sequences. Of particular richness is the recurrent coloratura aria for the 'bird-girl' (the serinette of the title), a virtuoso part reaching f'''. The tableau-like finale, an original chorale sung to a text by Willson, is characterized by a Somers trademark, a crescendo-decrescendo on the final held note of each line, and by an ending of chords separated by long silences, calculated to resonate in the high-ceilinged wooden Temple.