Music with Ease > 19th Century French Opera > Mignon (Thomas)
An Opera by Ambroise Thomas
The story of "Mignon" is derived from Goethes "Wilhelm Meister." It is founded on that favourite operatic subject (used in "The Bohemian Girl" and elsewhere) of the abduction of a high-born young lady and her sojourn with the gipsy tribe. Mignon, the heroine, being thus torn away from her home, her father, Lothario, a widower, becomes mentally deranged, and wanders about in the guise of a harper, searching for his daughter. Meanwhile, Jarno, the gipsy leader, treats Mignon with inhuman harshness. Trading on her beauty, he compels her to dance in public, and chastises her for her shortcomings. Presently a traveling student, Wilhelm Meister, pitying her miserable condition, ransoms her from the gypsies. Touched by his goodness, Mignon becomes desperately enamoured of her deliverer. Of this Wilhelm is ignorant, and settles his affections on Philine, a pretty actress.
A grand entertainment is given at the Castle of Rosenberg, and Philines services are engaged. Wilhelm and Mignon (disguised as a page) are both present. Applause greets the actress and fans the flame of Wilhelms love. Mignon is about to drown herself in a fit of jealousy when she meets Lothario. Mutually ignorant of each others identity, Mignon confides her griefs to the aged minstrel; to whom she further expresses a wish that the castle were in flames. Subsequently the castle is found to be on fire. It is the work of Lothario. In the midst of the alarm, Mignon (who had returned to the house) is missing. She is given up for lost, but is rescued by Wilhelm from the burning debris. She is next found in her fathers mansion, suffering from shock. In her delirium she breathes her love for Wilhelm. A girdle worn in childhood and the accents of an infant prayer reveal to Lothario the secret of her identity. Speedy recovery comes to the invalid, and Wilhelm, having now forgotten the fascinations of Philine, is ready to return her love and make her his own.
One of Thomas biographers describes his musical nature as "akin to that of Gounod: full of intelligence, grace, and elegance." Grace and elegance are the prominent features of the music of "Mignon," which has indeed a plaintive charm all its own. There is nothing "powerful" about it, and nothing strikingly original; but it is bright and fresh and natural, and these qualities have insured it a wide popularity. The dainty Gavotte is known to thousands who have never seen the opera itself.