Opera Scotland

Mignon

Music

Ambroise Thomas (born Metz, 5 August 1811; died Paris, 12 February 1896)

Text

Michel Carré and Jules Barbier.

Source

Novel Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre (1796) by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832).

 

Premieres

First performance: Paris (Opéra-Comique), 17 November 1866.

First UK performance: London (Drury Lane), 5 July 1870.

First performance in Scotland: Edinburgh (Royal Princess's Theatre), 1 September 1879

Scottish Opera première: N/A.

 

Background

Mignon enjoyed several decades of popularity after the composer’s death, though it was considered to be a lightweight treatment of Goethe’s novel, which ends tragically. It is frequently described as charming, rather than deeply dramatic. As with several other French works, it was damaged by the addition of recitatives instead of dialogue when it was adapted for grand opera performance. The two solos which have survived independently are both superb, however – Mignon’s ‘Connais-tu le pays?’ (in Goethe’s original ‘Kennst du das Land’, set by several great lieder composers), and the Polonaise ‘Je suis Tytania’, a coloratura showpiece for Philine recorded by many great sopranos of the past. The Buxton Festival had a great success in rescuing Hamlet from oblivion in 1982, and it remains to be seen if its 2011 staging can do the same for Mignon.

 

Characters

Mignon (mezzo-soprano)

Wilhelm Meister, a student (tenor)

Philine, an actress (soprano)

Lothario, a strolling minstrel (bass)

Frédéric, a student (mezzo-soprano or tenor)

Laërte, an actor (tenor)

Jarno, a gipsy (baritone)

 

Plot Summary

The plot is set in mid-eighteenth century Germany. At an inn, an elderly and half-mad minstrel, Lothario, is encouraged to stop for a rest. Gipsies arrive to entertain the crowd, but one of them, Mignon, refuses to dance as instructed and is attacked by Jarno. She is defended first by Lothario, then by Wilhelm, a student who arrives at this point. With financial encouragement from Philine, the gipsies go away, leaving Mignon behind. She thanks her rescuers, and is attracted to Wilhelm, who is himself attracted to Philine. Wilhelm asks Mignon about herself, she recounts her childhood memory of being abducted, and Wilhelm decides to buy her freedom from the gipsies. The actors are invited to perform at the local castle. It is agreed that Mignon will accompany Wilhelm as his page. At the castle that evening, Mignon becomes jealous of the growing friendship between Wilhelm and Philine. When she idly expresses the wish that the castle should burn down, Lothario takes a sudden interest and wanders off. At the end of the performance, in which Philine has played Tytania, Mignon goes into the theatre to fetch Philine’s bouquet, but when the building is discovered to be on fire, she is rescued, unconscious, by Wilhelm. Lothario’s behaviour continues to be eccentric, and he now takes Wilhelm and Mignon to a castle in Italy.  She recognises various items he had kept as keepsakes, and it transpires that Mignon is his long-lost daughter, whose abduction caused his breakdown into madness.

The Cast

Antonio
 a servant
Frédéric
 a young nobleman
Jarno
 a gypsy
Laërte
 an actor
Lothario
 a wandering minstrel
Mignon
 stolen in childhood
Philine
 an actress
Wilhelm Meister
 a student

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