A beautiful Art Nouveau bronze bust of a young woman with tri-coloured patination in light green and rich brown with good surface detail. Raised on an integral base with raised title to the fore, signed E Villanis, stamped and inscribed with exhibition mark for the Salon of 1896. A delightful bronze that is highly characteristic of this wonderful artist.
Mignon – French Opera
Mignon is an opéra comique (or opera in its second version) in three acts by Ambroise Thomas. The original French libretto was by Jules Barbier and Michel Carré, based on Goethe’s novel Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre. The Italian version was translated by Giuseppe Zaffira. The opera is mentioned in James Joyce‘s “The Dead” (Dubliners) and Willa Cather‘s The Professor’s House. Thomas’s goddaughter Mignon Nevada was named after the main character.
The first performance was at the Opéra-Comique in Paris on 17 November 1866. The piece proved popular: more than 100 performances took place by the following July, the 1,000th was given there on 13 May 1894, and the 1,500th on 25 May 1919.
The opera was also adapted and translated into German for performance in Berlin with Madame Lucca as Mignon. Lucca was well received, but the German critics were unhappy with the opera’s alterations to the Goethe original, so Thomas composed a shorter finale with a tragic ending, in which Mignon falls dead in the arms of Wilhelm. This ending was an attempt to make the story of the opera somewhat more similar in tone to the tragic outcome of Goethe’s. (The original version of Mignon for the Opéra-Comique had to have a happy ending, since at that time in Paris tragic operas in French were exclusively reserved for the Opéra.) Unsurprisingly, this “Version allemande” still failed to satisfy the German critics and proved to be a futile endeavor. As Henry Edward Krehbiel describes it, the “Mignon of Carré and Barbier bears little more than an external resemblance to the Mignon of Goethe, and to kill her is wanton cruelty.”
Despite his success in Paris with the French version, Thomas was asked to revise the work for the first performance at the Drury Lane Theatre in London on 5 July 1870. This version was given in Italian with recitatives (instead of spoken dialogue). The role of Mignon, originally for mezzo-soprano, was sung by a soprano (Christina Nilsson), and the role of Frédéric, originally a tenor, was sung by a contralto (Zelia Trebelli-Bettini). A second verse was added to Lothario’s aria in the first act (“Fugitif et tremblant” in the French version), and in the second act, a rondo-gavotte for Frédéric (“Me voici dans son boudoir”) was devised using the music of the entr’acte preceding that act, to satisfy Mme Trebelli-Bettini, who was discomfited by having to take on a role originally written for buffo tenor. Apparently the coloratura soprano Elisa Volpini, who was to sing Philine, felt that her aria at the end of the second act (“Je suis Titania”) was insufficient, and another florid aria (“Alerte, alerte, Philine!”) was inserted after the second act entr’acte and before Laerte’s 6/8 Allegretto (“Rien ne vaut”). The finale was also much shortened. Philine’s extra aria appears to have either never been orchestrated, or the orchestration was lost or destroyed. (Most sources say that the aria was performed and not cut from the Drury Lane production, implying that Thomas must have orchestrated it.) The aria is known from several piano-vocal scores and is included as an appendix, sung by Ruth Welting with flute and harpsichord accompaniment, as part of the 1978 recording with Marilyn Horne as Mignon. The recording also includes a second appendix with the original, longer version of the finale.
The United States premiere was given on 9 May 1871 at the French Opera House in New Orleans. This was followed by a Maurice Strakosch production in Italian at the New York Academy of Music on 22 November 1871 with Christine Nilsson as Mignon, Mlle. Léon Duval as Philine, Victor Capoul as Wilhelm, and Mlle. Ronconi as Frédéric. The substantial success of the opera in London and New York has been attributed to the presence of Christine Nilsson in both productions. Nilsson also performed the role at the Metropolitan Opera in New York in 1883.
The versions of the opera performed outside France, in particular, those in the United States and Italy, have been in Italian (later also in French), with Mignon as a soprano or mezzo-soprano, and Frédéric as a mezzo-soprano or contralto, and with the sung recitatives and the shortened finale. More recently, in 1986, the original opéra comique version with soprano Cynthia Clarey as Mignon was revived for a production at the Wexford Festival Opera.
Noted soprano interpreters of Mignon have included Emma Albani (Covent Garden’s first Mignon in 1874), Lucrezia Bori, and Geraldine Farrar; mezzo-sopranos have included Marilyn Horne, Giulietta Simionato, Frederica von Stade, Risë Stevens, and Ebe Stignani. Lily Pons was famous for singing Philine.
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