“Mignon” is a light opera in three acts with text by Barbier and Carré, based upon Goethe’s “Wilhelm Meister,” and with music by Ambroise Thomas. It was first presented in Paris at the Opéra Comique in 1866.
Mignon, daugher of Lothario, stolen by gypsies. Wilhelm Meister, a student. Lothario, a half demented old man, wandering as a minstrel. Filina, a young actress. Laertes, an actor. Giarno, chief of the gypsies. Frederico, lover of Filina.
The first two acts of Mignon take place in Germany, the last act in Italy. The story opens in the yard of an inn, where soon all the leading characters assemble. Here is Lothario, half crazed and in the guise of a minstrel, but in reality in search of his daughter, who was stolen from him when a little girl. Here, too, comes Whilhem Meister, a wandering student, also a troupe of actors, among whom is the wilful beauty Filina, and a band of gypsies, of whose number is Mignon. The little waif, in their travels from town to town, is made to dance in the streets to the delight of the crowd. She is sleeping at the back of an old cart on a sheaf of straw but is soon awakened and ordered to dance by Giarno, the leader of the band. The crowd laughs to see the sleepy, slender creature in her rude attire but suddenly she shows unwonted spirit and refuses to do Giarno’s bidding. He is about to lay hands upon her when Lothario rushes to her defense and would be worsted but that Wilhelm rescues both him and the girl, ultimately purchasing the latter from her cruel master. Mignon’s gratitude amounts to love and she begs to be allowed to serve Wilhelm. Ignorant of the passion he has inspired, he consents to her acting as his page so that thus she may be safe to satisfy her expressed wish to be near him. He, however, has become infatuated with the gay Filina and follows in the wake of her troupe. His admiration flatters the actress and she practises all her arts upon him. At last, Mignon’s jealousy makes her so miserable that she is about to end her sorrow in the lake when she hears the music of Lothario’s harp and rushes to him. In her anger she expresses a wish that the castle of Rosenberg, in which Filina is playing in the ” Midsummer Night’s Dream,” might be struck by lightning. The demented Lothario, thinking to grant this wish of hers, sets fire to the house. Unknown to him, Mignon is in the building, having been ordered by Filina to fetch some flowers that had been forgotten. She is narrowly saved from death by Wilhelm who, at the risk of his own life, carries her out injured and unconscious.
The last act is placed in Italy. Thither the ill Mignon has been brought, followed by Wilhelm. Her delirium has revealed to him the love she feels for him and he has broken away from Filina. Lothario, now no longer in the humble attire of a minstrel, receives them in his palace which he had abandoned after the loss of his daughter. He shows Mignon many of his possessions and she recognizes certain jewels that she had worn in childhood. Above all, she knows the portrait of her mother and repeats a prayer taught to her in babyhood. By these proofs, Lothario knows her to be his daughter. Filina has followed them to Italy and Mignon’s jealousy momentarily flares up again but Wilhelm proves that he loves her alone and they are united, with Lothario’s blessing.
Thomas’ treatment of Mignon is ever sensitive and refined and, while not strikingly original, results in a wealth of graceful, gentle melody. It is skilfully framed as regards obtaining the best stage effects and the composer has shown skill and facility in handling the orchestra. The opera is one of the most popular in the repertory of the French operatic stage and on it rests Thomas’ claim to world-wide recognition as a composer.
Among the notable numbers are Mignon’s famous song, ” Non conosci il bel suoi ” (” Knowest thou that fair land? “) and the ” Swallow ” duet of Mignon and Lothario. In the second act occur the duet of Filina and Wilhelm, ” Gai complimenti ; ” Mignon’s song at the mirror, ” Conosco un Zingarello ; ” Wilhelm’s aria, ” Addio, Mignon ! fa core ! ” possessing wonderful beauty and pathos; the duet of Mignon and Lothario, Sofferto hai tu ” and Filina’s dashing polacca, ” Io son Titania.” In the third act occur “Ah! non credea,” sung by Wilhelm, and the love duet, ” Ah ! son felice, son rapita.”