Mignon
  • Ambroise Thomas. Opéra comique in three acts. 1866.
  • Libretto by Jules Barbier and Michel Carré, after episodes in Goethe’s Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre (Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship).
  • First performance by the Opéra-Comique at the Salle Favart, Paris, on 17th November 1866.
CHARACTERS
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, a young nobleman tenor or contralto
Antonio, a servant bass

In the courtyard of a German inn Lothario, the old harper of Goethe’s novel, sings, Philine and Laerte are seen, and Mignon is protected from Jarno, who wants to make her dance, by Wilhelm Meister and the minstrel. Mignon gives them both wild flowers. Wilhelm questions Mignon about her childhood and buys her freedom. She is in love with her saviour, but uneasy that the flowers that she gave him have been given, in fact by Laerte, to Philine, with whom Frédéric is in love. Philine, however, considers Wilhelm a better catch. In the castle where the actors are to perform, Wilhelm assists Philine as she makes ready, watched jealously by Mignon. When the two have gone out, Mignon dons one of Philine’s costumes and separates Frédéric and Wilhelm when a serious quarrel breaks out. Wilhelm warns Mignon that they must part. In the castle grounds Mignon is in despair, comforted by Lothario, who sets the castle on fire in response to Mignon’s angry wish that the place might burn, when she hears the applause for Philine’s performance. Wilhelm rescues Mignon from the building, where Philine had sent her for the wild flowers given to Wilhelm the day before. The third act is set in an Italian castle that Wilhelm plans to buy for Mignon, who has been seriously ill. The surroundings awaken Lothario’s memories and he now comes to his senses, recognising the castle as his own and Mignon as his long- lost daughter, in search of whom he had wandered as a minstrel.

Among the best-known melodies from Mignon is that of the gavotte, used to open the second act, and recurring in Frédéric’s song of pleasure at being in Philine’s dressing-room at the castle. Goethe’s famous Kennst du das Land from his Wilhelm Meister, set by so many of the greatest composers, appears as Mignon’s central aria Connais-tu le pays où fleurit l’oranger (Do you know the land where the orange tree blossoms), her reply to Wilhelm Meister’s first questions about her childhood. Lothario, setting out for the south again, sings with Mignon the Swallow Duet, Légères hirondelles (Graceful swallows). In Je connais un pauvre enfant (I know a poor gypsy boy) Mignon, wearing one of Philine’s costumes, sings a styrienne, a form of song attributed to the Styria region of Austria and with Adieu, Mignon! Courage! (Farewell, Mignon! Courage!) Wilhelm Meister tells her they must part. In As-tu souffert? As-tu pleuré? (Have you suffered? Have you wept?) Lothario and Mignon sing of their sad lives. Philine, as Titania in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, sings a polonaise, Je suis Titania (I am Titania), followed by a choral barcarolle. In the third act Lothario has a moving berceuse (lullaby) as Mignon rests, De son coeur j’ai calmé la fièvre (I have calmed the fever of her heart).