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Ambroise Thomas by Hippolyte Flandrin
23 Aug 2009

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Streaming Audio

Ambroise Thomas: Mignon

Stephanie Blythe (Mignon); Massimo Giordano (Wilhelm Meister); Eglise Gutierrez (Philine); John Relyea (Lothario); Kate Aldrich (Frédéric); William Ferguson (Laerte); Charles Unice (Jarno); Rubin Casas (Antonio). Opera Orchestra of New York.


Music composed by Ambroise Thomas. Libretto by Barbier and Carré based on Goethe's novel Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre (1795-6 ).

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

Principal roles:
Mignon Mezzo-Soprano
Wilhelm Meister, a student Tenor
Philine, an actress Soprano
Lothario, a wandering minstrel Bass
Laerte, an actor Tenor
Jarno, a gypsy Bass
Frédéric, Philine’s admirer Tenor or Contralto
Antonio, castle retainer Bass

Setting: Germany and Italy in the late 18th century

Act I

The courtyard of a German inn

Deranged by the loss of his daughter Sperata many years ago, the old harper Lothario enters the courtyard in search of her. The gipsy Jarno and his troupe arrive. Philine, an actress, calls her companion Laertes to a window to look.

After a gipsy dance, Jarno promises the egg dance, but when he rouses a young girl sleeping in a cart, she refuses to perform. Jarno beats her and Lothario comes to her aid, supported by a young man, Wilhlem Meister, who has just appeared. Philine throws the indignant Jarno a purse to compensate for his lost revenue and Mignon gives flowers to her deliverers.

Laertes approaches Wilhelm on behalf of Philine, who is interested in him and explains that the two of them are the all that is left of a troupe of actors, now out of work. Wilhelm explains that he is of bourgeois origin, just out of university and about to explore the world, and open to the charms of love. Laertes, a misogynist, warns him against falling in love with the vain and capricious Philine, but when she appears Wilhelm is smitten.

Amused, Laertes continues to advise him to escape, but Wilhelm is already trapped. The rescued girl thanks him, tells him her name is Mignon, but she knows little else about herself, not even her age. She has faint memories of a childhood in a springlike climate, among orange trees and a noble house, and remembers being seized by gipsies when walking by a lake. Wilhelm goes off to settle with Jarno, who is ready to let her go altogether for a suitable payment.

Lothario bids Mignon farewell, intending to follow the swallows which have already left for the south, and Mignon takes his lute and sings of the swallows. Upset by the sound of Philine's laugh, she pulls him away. Philine appears with Frederick, a long-time admirer, whom she mischievously introduces to Wilhelm.

Laertes appears with a letter from Frederick's noble uncle, inviting the actors to his castle to help celebrate the arrival of a prince. Interested in Wilhelm and wanting to put Frederick in his place, she invites Wilhelm to join them, and he accepts, despite another warning from Laertes. Mignon begs to be allowed to accompany Wilhelm and when he answers that he is not ready for the responsibilities of a father, she offers to dress as a boy, in his livery. It is only when she prepares to join Lothario in his precarious wandering life if refused, that Wilhelm consents.

The rest of the actors appear, Philine takes from Wilhelm the bouquet Mignon had given him — to the distress of Mignon — and all, including Lothario, set off for the castle.

Act II

Scene 1. An elegant boudoir in the castle

Philine, to the amusement of Laertes, is settled in very comfortable quarters, and is expecting a train of admirers. When Wilhelm appears, with Mignon dressed as a page, she is amused and Mignon listens jealously as she flirts with the infatuated Wilhelm. Left alone, Mignon paints her face at the dressing table and goes into the wardrobe to find a dress, tempted by the thought of appearing as a lady, like Philine.

Frederick appears, in search of Philine, and when Wilhelm enters, in search of Mignon, they quarrel, recognising one another as rivals, and are about to fight, when Mignon, now in a dress of Philine's, rushes out to separate them.

Frederick, amused at the transformation, declines to risk hurting her, and leaves, while Wilhelm, reminded of Mignon's age and sex by her change of clothes, realises it is unfitting for him to keep her as a companion. She is distressed, but agrees to leave him.

Philine, summoned by Frederick to see Mignon in her dress, is also amused, but Mignon tears off the dress in a rage, and Philine tells the surprised Wilhelm that Mignon is jealous of her. Laertes calls them to the play, and Philine leaves on Wilhelm's arm, to the rage of Mignon and Frederick.

Scene 2. The park of the castle

Mignon, suffering from pangs of jealousy, thinks of drowning herself in the lake, but overcomes the impulse. She is found by Lothario, and they commiserate with one another on their sufferings.

The sound of applause for Philine's performance in the play sends Mignon away in a burst of fury, wishing that the castle and all in it could be swallowed up in flames. Philine, with a crowd of admirers in train, sings of her impersonation of Titania in A Midsummer Night's Dream. Lothario tells Mignon that he has carried out her wish and set fire to the castle, but when Philine asks her to fetch the bouquet she left behind, she agrees. Wilhelm rescues Mignon from the castle as it is engulfed in flames.


A gallery in the Cipriani palace in Italy

Wilhelm has taken Mignon to Italy, where he and Lothario watch over her in her illness. Lothario prays for her recovery and Wilhelm discusses with Antonio, retainer of the former Count Cipriani, the story of the count's child who had been drowned in the lake many years ago. The child's mother had died shortly afterwards and the father had left Italy forever, so the palace of the Cipriani is available for Wilhelm to buy, as he intends. The the name strikes Lothario, who goes off, trying to open long-closed doors.

Now aware of Mignon's love for him, which he has come to return, Wilhelm anxiously awaits her recovery. Antonio brings him a note from Laertes, warning that Philine has followed him.

Mignon appears, calling for Wilhlem and Lothario and puzzled by the familiarity of the palace. Now that she has recovered, Wilhelm speaks of his love, but Mignon. about to believe him, hears Philine's voice and refuses to be convinced, becoming feverish again and calling for Lothario, who is the only one, she says, who loves her.

He appears through a door left unopened for 15 years, dressed in fine clothes and in his right mind, welcoming Mignon and Wilhelm to his home. He gives Mignon a box containing a few souvenirs of his lost Sperata, including a prayer book.

Mignon starts to read a prayer but finishes it from memory, to be greeted by Lothario as his daughter; and she too remembers the past and recognises him. The joy of finding her homeland and her father are almost too much for her, and she collapses, but is revived by the assurance of Wilhelm's love. The two are blessed by Lothario.

[Synopsis Source: Opera~Opera]

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