Mignon: Opera Synopsis

Poster for the Premiere of the Opera Mignon
Jules Chéret/ Wikimedia Commons

Ambroise Thomas's three-act opera comique, Mignon, premiered on November 17, 1866, at the Opéra-Comique in ​Paris, France. The story is set in Germany and Italy in the late 18th century. The opera was mentioned into two famous author's works, Will Cather's The Professor's House and James Joyce's "The Dead."

Mignon, ACT 1

Lothario, a minstrel, has wandered into a small German tavern. As he sings, Gypsies dance and townsfolk patronizing the tavern drink and watch. Jarno, a gypsy, orders Mignon to dance. When she refuses, he threatens to beat her with a stick. Thankfully, Lothario and Wilhelm Meister step in and help her. Mignon offers the two men a bouquet of flowers as a sign of gratitude. Wilhelm shares a round of drinks with the actor, Laerte, before Laerte leaves with fellow actress, Philine. As they are leaving, Wilhelm gives his small bouquet of flowers to Philine.

Mignon comes back to visit with Wilhelm. During their conversation, she tells him that she was captured by Gypsies when she was a little girl. Wilhelm is moved by her story and offers to purchase her freedom. Lothario invites her to travel with him, and though the idea sounds promising, she chooses to remain with Wilhelm. Frederick, who is madly in love with Philine, follows her back into the tavern. Little does he know that she has a crush on Wilhelm. Philine's acting troupe is about to depart to perform at the Baron's nearby castle. When Philine exits the tavern again, Mignon notices that she is carrying the bouquet that Mignon gave to Wilhelm. Mignon becomes upset because she has fallen in love with Wilhelm.

Mignon, ACT 2

While in the Baron's castle, Philine flirts with the Baron and enjoys all the luxuries his wealth and title has earned him. Outside, Laerte expresses great praise for Philine as Wilhelm and Mignon enter the castle. Philine greets Wilhelm, and as they converse Mignon pretends to be asleep. Philine and Wilhelm leave so as not to disturb the sleeping Mignon. Once alone, Mignon shuffles through Philine's make-up and costumes, even trying a few on for size.

Clearly Mignon is jealous and after becoming upset again, she leaves. Frederic enters the room shortly thereafter, and when Wilhelm returns to fetch Mignon, Frederic confronts him about Philine. Mignon happens to enter the room just before a brawl breaks out between the two men and she is able to stop them. Wilhelm makes up his mind and tells Mignon that he doesn't want to be with her. Instead, he chooses to be with Philine. They exit the room with their arms interlocked.

After the performance starts, Mignon jealously paces about in the castle's courtyard. She hears Lothario playing the harp nearby and speaks with him. As he comforts her, applause is heard emanating from the castle's conservatory. The audience is thrilled with Philine's performance as Titania in A Midsummer Night's Dream. Mignon becomes furious and shouts that she wishes that the castle would catch fire. In a jealous rage, she storms out of the courtyard.

Lothario proceeds to the conservatory. Wilhelm and Philine have walked into the courtyard, and when Mignon reappears, Wilhelm is very pleasant towards her. Philine becomes jealous and orders Mignon to fetch flowers from the conservatory. Mignon angrily complies. Moments later, a fire set by Lothario is seen billowing from the conservatory. Wilhelm rushes there to save Mignon, but he finds her unconscious, still clutching a bouquet of scorched flowers.

Mignon, ACT 3

To take care of Mignon, who is still unconscious, Wilhelm brings her and Lothario to a castle in Italy that he is deciding whether or not to buy. Wilhelm leaves Mignon under the care of an old man who promises to pray for her every day. Wilhelm meets with the castle servant, Antonio to question him about the castle. Antonio tells him that the previous owner was driven mad by the death of his wife, who died from grief after they lost their child. After Wilhelm discovers that the castle has sped Mignon's recovery, he immediately offers to buy it for her. Mignon awakens to this strangely familiar place and tells Wilhelm that she loves it.

Wilhelm has a change of heart and declares his love for her. His love is tested when Philine arrives seeking to be with him again. This time, however, Wilhelm rejects her and tells her he is in love with Mignon. Lothario returns to the room where Wilhelm and Mignon are and tells them happily that being in the castle has cleared his mind. Mignon looks around the castle and picks up a book to read. As she reads it, she finds a prayer written within its pages. She suddenly remembers that her real name is Sperata and that Lothario is her father. This was the castle she was born in before she was taken by Gypsies. Lothario is overcome with joy and the three hug each other tightly.

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