Music composed by Ambroise Thomas. Libretto by Barbier and CarrÈ based on Goethe’s novel Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre (1795-6 ).
First performance: Paris, OpÈra-Comique (Salle Favart), 17 November 1866
|Wilhelm Meister, a student||Tenor|
|Philine, an actress||Soprano|
|Lothario, a wandering minstrel||Bass|
|Laerte, an actor||Tenor|
|Jarno, a gypsy||Bass|
|FrÈdÈric, Philine’s admirer||Tenor or Contralto|
|Antonio, castle retainer||Bass|
Setting: Germany and Italy in the late 18th century
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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]
image_description=Ambroise Thomas by Hippolyte Flandrin
first_audio_name=Ambroise Thomas: Mignon
product_title=Ambroise Thomas: Mignon
product_by=Stephanie Blythe (Mignon); Massimo Giordano (Wilhelm Meister); Eglise Gutierrez (Philine); John Relyea (Lothario); Kate Aldrich (FrÈdÈric); William Ferguson (Laerte); Charles Unice (Jarno); Rubin Casas (Antonio). Opera Orchestra of New York.
New York City Choral Society. Eve Queler, conducting. Live performance, 7 April 2005, New York.