is an opera
Opera is an art form in which singers and musicians perform a dramatic work combining text and musical score, usually in a theatrical setting. Opera incorporates many of the elements of spoken theatre, such as acting, scenery, and costumes and sometimes includes dance...
in five acts by Charles Gounod
Charles-François Gounod was a French composer, known for his Ave Maria as well as his operas Faust and Roméo et Juliette.-Biography:...
to a French
French is a Romance language spoken as a first language in France, the Romandy region in Switzerland, Wallonia and Brussels in Belgium, Monaco, the regions of Quebec and Acadia in Canada, and by various communities elsewhere. Second-language speakers of French are distributed throughout many parts...
libretto by Michel Carré
Michel Carré was a prolific French librettist.He went to Paris in 1840 intending to become a painter but took up writing instead. He wrote verse and plays before turning to writing libretti. His libretto for Mirette was never performed in France but was later performed in English adaptation in...
after Frédéric Mistral
Frédéric Mistral was a French writer and lexicographer of the Occitan language. Mistral won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1904 and was a founding member of Félibrige and a member of l'Académie de Marseille...
's poem Mireio
Mirèio is a poem in Occitan by French writer Frédéric Mistral. It was written in 1859.-The plot:In Provence, Mirèio is the daughter of a rich farmer. She is in love with a modest basketmaker, Vincènt. Her father disapproves of the relationship and seeks other suitors. Mirèio, in despair, escapes...
Mistral had become well-known in Paris with the publication of the French prose translation of Mireio
in 1859, and Gounod knew the work by 1861. Gounod was charmed by the originality of the work, the story being much less contrived than many of those on the operatic stage at the time. The action of the opera is quite faithful to Mistral although the sequence of events of the Val d’Enfer (Act 3, Scene 1) and Mireille's avowal of her love of Vincent to her father (Act 2 finale) are reversed in the opera.
During the course of composition Gounod spent much time in Provence
Provence ; Provençal: Provença in classical norm or Prouvènço in Mistralian norm) is a region of south eastern France on the Mediterranean adjacent to Italy. It is part of the administrative région of Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur...
(12 March to the end of May 1863), visiting the sites of the action in the poem/opera, and met Mistral on several occasions at his home in Maillane
Maillane is a commune in the Bouches-du-Rhône department in southern France in the former province of Provence.-Geography:...
Gounod stayed at the Hôtel de la Ville Vert in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence
Saint-Rémy-de-Provence is a commune in the Bouches-du-Rhône department in southern France.-Geography:...
, and was treated to a banquet by the townspeople on May 26.
Presenting class differences in a rural setting was not usual at the time, and as Huebner comments "some early reviewers had difficulty accepting that a 'mere' country girl could sing a heroic aria such as "En marche".
It has been argued that "what matters in this extended lyric poem is not the story but the rich tapestry or Provençal traditions, beliefs and customs".
The run-through of the work at Gounod's house included Georges Bizet
Georges Bizet formally Alexandre César Léopold Bizet, was a French composer, mainly of operas. In a career cut short by his early death, he achieved few successes before his final work, Carmen, became one of the most popular and frequently performed works in the entire opera repertory.During a...
on the piano and Camille Saint-Saëns
Charles-Camille Saint-Saëns was a French Late-Romantic composer, organist, conductor, and pianist. He is known especially for The Carnival of the Animals, Danse macabre, Samson and Delilah, Piano Concerto No. 2, Cello Concerto No. 1, Havanaise, Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso, and his Symphony...
on the harmonium
A harmonium is a free-standing keyboard instrument similar to a reed organ. Sound is produced by air being blown through sets of free reeds, resulting in a sound similar to that of an accordion...
. Gounod and the Vicomtesse de Grandval (a composer herself) sang the solo parts.
The opera premiered at the Théâtre Lyrique
The Théâtre Lyrique was one of four opera companies performing in Paris during the middle of the 19th century . The company was founded in 1847 as the Opéra-National by the French composer Adolphe Adam and renamed Théâtre Lyrique in 1852...
, Paris on March 19, 1864; the first night was attended by Ivan Turgenev
Ivan Sergeyevich Turgenev was a Russian novelist, short story writer, and playwright. His first major publication, a short story collection entitled A Sportsman's Sketches, is a milestone of Russian Realism, and his novel Fathers and Sons is regarded as one of the major works of 19th-century...
, who in a letter to Pauline Viardot, ridicules part of Act 3.
As with the role of 'Marguerite' in Faust
Faust is a drame lyrique in five acts by Charles Gounod to a French libretto by Jules Barbier and Michel Carré from Carré's play Faust et Marguerite, in turn loosely based on Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's Faust, Part 1...
, Gounod's demands on his principal soprano are particularly onerous – from light soprano in Act I to more dramatic singing in Act IV. Even before the premiere Gounod had been forced by his prima donna
Originally used in opera or Commedia dell'arte companies, "prima donna" is Italian for "first lady." The term was used to designate the leading female singer in the opera company, the person to whom the prime roles would be given. The prima donna was normally, but not necessarily, a soprano...
to make many changes to the form and content of his opera. This caused vocal problems for Miolan-Carvalho - wife of the theatre director - who got Gounod to make the role easier for her and particularly more 'brilliant'. Gounod even marked in the manuscript that the roulades
at the end of her Act 2 air were demanded by her.
Criticisms of the original performances led to a revised version in three acts which was presented in Paris, on December 15, 1864, and yet another version with a happy ending
A happy ending is an ending of the plot of a work of fiction in which almost everything turns out for the best for the protagonists, their sidekicks, and almost everyone except the villains....
for the Opéra-Comique
The Opéra-Comique is a Parisian opera company, which was founded around 1714 by some of the popular theatres of the Parisian fairs. In 1762 the company was merged with, and for a time took the name of its chief rival the Comédie-Italienne at the Hôtel de Bourgogne, and was also called the...
in 1889. December performances of Mireille also included a revised ending to the overture (which has been used ever since although the original slower coda is printed in the 1970 vocal score) and the 'valse-ariette' "O légère hirondelle" for Mireille in Act I.
was seen in London, Dublin and Philadelphia in 1864 and Antwerp in 1865. Adelina Patti
Adelina Patti was a highly acclaimed 19th-century opera singer, earning huge fees at the height of her career in the music capitals of Europe and America. She first sang in public as a child in 1851 and gave her last performance before an audience in 1914...
sang the title role in an Italian production in St Petersburg in 1874 with her husband Nicolini as Vincent.
In 1939 an attempt was made to revert to Gounod's original thoughts, and productions since then have generally followed the five act structure in a version edited by Henri Büsser
Henri Büsser was a French classical composer, organist, and conductor.- Biography :Paul-Henri Büsser was born in Toulouse, of partly Teutonic ancestry. He entered the Conservatoire in Paris in 1889; there he studied organ with César Franck and composition with Ernest Guiraud...
Whether the Busser edition (based on a new production in Paris, 6 June 1939, revived in Arles, 28 June 1941) is a true reflection of the original score is doubtful: there may have been spoken dialogue at the première rather than recitatives; the end of Act II was originally a repeat of the concertato, not a recollection of the Chanson de Magali.
Critical reaction to the first performances was negative with accusations of Wagnerism.
The three act version pleased some later writers, who admired "warmth and colour" and found it "glows with the life and sunlight of the south".
||Premiere Cast, March 19, 1864
(Conductor: Adolphe Deloffre
Louis Michel Adolphe Deloffre was a French violinist and conductor active in London and Paris, who conducted several important operatic premieres in the latter city, particularly by Charles Gounod and Georges Bizet....
A soprano is a voice type with a vocal range from approximately middle C to "high A" in choral music, or to "soprano C" or higher in operatic music. In four-part chorale style harmony, the soprano takes the highest part, which usually encompasses the melody...
|Marie Caroline Miolan-Carvalho
Marie Caroline Miolan-Carvalho was a famed French operatic soprano, particularly associated with light lyric and coloratura roles....
|Vincent, her lover
The tenor is a type of male singing voice and is the highest male voice within the modal register. The typical tenor voice lies between C3, the C one octave below middle C, to the A above middle C in choral music, and up to high C in solo work. The low extreme for tenors is roughly B2...
|Ourrias, a bull-tender
Baritone is a type of male singing voice that lies between the bass and tenor voices. It is the most common male voice. Originally from the Greek , meaning deep sounding, music for this voice is typically written in the range from the second F below middle C to the F above middle C Baritone (or...
|Maître Ramon, father of Mireille
|Taven, an old woman
A mezzo-soprano is a type of classical female singing voice whose range lies between the soprano and the contralto singing voices, usually extending from the A below middle C to the A two octaves above...
|Vincenette, Vincent's sister
|Andreloun, a shepherd
|Maître Ambroise, father of Vincent
Louis Émile Wartel was an opera singer and teacher active in Paris. He was the son of the musicians François Wartel and Thérèse Wartel.-Life and career:...
|Une voix d'en haut
Morus is a genus of flowering plants in the family Moraceae. The 10–16 species of deciduous trees it contains are commonly known as Mulberries....
grove on Midsummer night (Fête de la Saint-Jean).
Girls sing as they pick the leaves to feed to silkworms. Taven, an old woman who lives in nearby caves, joins them and comments on their jollity, but they laugh at "the witch" and Clemence voices her wish for a rich husband. Mireille however wants to marry for love, even if her husband be poor and shy, but is teased by the other girls who know that she has set her heart on a poor basket-weaver, Vincent. Taven shares her forebodings with Mireille. Vincent passes by and Mireille gets him to confess his love. As they part, they swear to meet in the church of Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer
Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer is the capital of the Camargue in the south of France. It is a commune in the Bouches-du-Rhône department by the Mediterranean Sea. Population: 2,478...
if anything befalls one of them. The girls are heard singing the opening chorus in the distance.
In front of the Arles Amphitheatre
The Arles Amphitheatre is a Roman amphitheatre in the southern French town of Arles. This two-tiered Roman Amphitheatre is probably the most prominent tourist attraction in the city of Arles, which thrived in Roman times....
the same afternoon.
The crowd is singing and dancing a farandole
The farandole is an open-chain community dance popular in the County of Nice, France. The farandole bears similarities to the gavotte, jig, and tarantella...
as it waits for the start of a race. Mireille and Vincent arrive separately but they are greeted joyfully and sing the Song of Magali
. After the race, Taven takes Mireille aside and tells her that she has just seen three young men, Ourrias, Alari and Pascoul arguing who should claim Mireille's hand.
Alone, Mireille swears that nothing will part her from Vincent. Ourrias enters and forces his boastful attentions on her but Mireille politely rejects his advances. Mireille's father Ramon enters, followed shortly by Ambroise, the father of Vincent. Ambroise asks for advice on what to do about his son who is in love with a rich heiress; Ramon suggests beating the boy to cure him. Shocked, Ambroise is reminded by Ramon of a father's prerogative which used to extend even to life and death over his children. At this, Mireille comes forward crying "Kill me!" - she is the one Vincent loves. Ramon is outraged, orders Mireille to go home then turns on Vincent and Ambroise.
First Tableau: The Val d'Enfer in the country outside Arles. Night
Ourrias and some friends are in the wild spot, supposedly peopled by spirits. Ourrias wants to buy a potion from Taven. Alone, Ourrias vents his fury and jealousy and lies in wait for Vincent, who soon appears. Ourrias insults him but although Vincent tries to calm him down, Ourrias strikes him with his trident, and thinking he has killed him, runs off. Taven hears cries and curses Ourrias as he rushes off, then tends to the unconscious Vincent.
Second Tableau: The banks of the Rhône
Rhone can refer to:* Rhone, one of the major rivers of Europe, running through Switzerland and France* Rhône Glacier, the source of the Rhone River and one of the primary contributors to Lake Geneva in the far eastern end of the canton of Valais in Switzerland...
Full of remorse, Ourrias hurries to the river bank and calls the ferryman. An echo greets his call and moans sound with ghosts floating above the water. The ferryman (Passeur) arrives and Ourrias impatiently gets aboard. The waters swell, and as the boatman reminds Ourrias of his crime, the boat sinks beneath the waves.
First Tableau: Ramon's farm late the same night
While the harvesters celebrate, Ramon is sad and knows that by denying Mireille's love he has destroyed his dream of a happy old age. From her window Mireille sees a young shepherd singing, and envies his carefree life. Unseen, Vincenette, Vincent's sister, comes to tell her that Vincent is wounded: Mireille resolves to set off at once to Saintes-Maries.
Second Tableau: The Crau
The Crau is the ancient confluence of the Durance and Rhône, and constitutes their vast flat alluvial fan.-Agriculture:The Crau is composed of two different parts:The dry Crau is in the south, and has been used as pasture from Roman times...
Mireille, staggers in already tired, and dazzled by the sun, faints as she hears shepherd's pipes in the distance. She makes a last effort to continue her journey.
In front of the chapel of Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer. Midday
Pilgrims are singing. Vincent is there, looking for Mireille, and she arrives, exhausted and collapses in his arms. Ramon arrives with Vincenette, and forgives her, but Mireille dies and is called to heaven by a celestial voice.
Musical form and style
, the most extended to any stage work by Gounod, opens with a passage which later serves as the introduction to the tableau in the Crau
, and with its horn calls and shimmering harmony is evocative of hot open spaces. There follows a theme associated with Vincent and a farandole
The farandole is an open-chain community dance popular in the County of Nice, France. The farandole bears similarities to the gavotte, jig, and tarantella...
According to Canteloube, the text of the Provençal folk-song 'Margarido, ma mio', found extensively in Provence, inspired Mistral's chanson Magali, while the music of the Chanson de Magali
is based on the folksong 'Bouenjour, lou roussignou'. The alternating 9/8 6/8 time helps give the illusion of the fluidity of folk music.
which opens Act 2 is more in the character of a rigaudon
The rigaudon is a French baroque dance with a lively duple metre. The music is similar to that of a bourrée, but the rigaudon is rhythmically simpler with regular phrases ....
The bourrée is a dance of French origin common in Auvergne and Biscay in Spain in the 17th century. It is danced in quick double time, somewhat resembling the gavotte. The main difference between the two is the anacrusis, or upbeat; a bourrée starts on the last beat of a bar, creating a...
, and the grand finale to Act 2
is rather conventional operatic style.
By contrast, the supernatural scenes are not meant to frighten – they are more examples of Gounod the tone-painter.
Act 3 allows Gounod to write "a Mendelssohnian scherzo with a dash of Berlioz and creates a frisson by means of chromatic harmony in the manner of Weber's Freischutz.
The Chanson d’Andreloun
was originally written for a projected opera 'Ivan IV'.
in Act IV Sc 1 has the oboe and clarinet imitating a bagpipe, while in the final act the off-stage hymn Le voile enfin
is an adaptation of the Latin sequence ‘Lauda Sion Salvatorem’.
Overall the score "reminds us of the abundance and variety of Gounod's gifts and of his unfailing imaginative grasp of the lyric stage".
- 1954 - Jeanette Vivalda (Mireille), Nicolai Gedda
Nicolai Gedda is a Swedish operatic tenor. Having made some two hundred recordings, Gedda is said to be the most widely recorded tenor in history...
(Vincent), Michel Dens
Michel Dens was a French baritone, particularly associated with the French repertory, both opera and operetta....
(Ourrias), Christine Gayraud (Taven), André Vessières (Ramon) - Aix-en-Provence Festival
The festival international d'art lyrique is an annual international music festival which takes place each summer in Aix-en-Provence, principally in the month of July. Devoted mainly to opera, it also includes concerts of orchestral, chamber, vocal and solo instrumental music.-Establishment:The...
Chorus, Paris Conservatoire Orchestra, André Cluytens
André Cluytens was a Belgian-born French conductor who was active in the concert hall, opera house and recording studio. His repertoire extended from Viennese classics through French composers to 20th century works...
(Voix de son Maitre)
- 1962 - Renée Doria
Renée Doria is a French opera singer, one of the leading lyric coloratura soprano of her era in France.- Biography :...
(Mireille), Michel Sénéchal
Michel Sénéchal is a French tenor, particularly associated with French and Italian character roles in a repertory ranging from Baroque to contemporary works.- Life and career :...
(Vincent), Robert Massard
Robert Massard is a French baritone, primarily associated with the French repertory, one of the few outstanding French opera singers of the postwar era.- Career :Massard was born in Pau, France, and was mainly self-taught...
(Ourrias), Solange Michel
Solange Michel was a French classical mezzo-soprano who sang in concerts, recitals, and operas from the 1930s to the 1970s...
(Taven), Adrien Legros (Maître Ramon) - Orchestre symphonique et Choeur de Paris, Jésus Etcheverry
Jésus Etcheverry was a French operatic conductor.He began studying the violin while still very young, and played with diverse small orchestras to pay for his tuitions. At age 20, he was engaged by the Symphonic Orchestra in Casablanca, as first violinist, and shortly after began teaching at the...
- 1979 - Mirella Freni
Mirella Freni, birth name Mirella Fregni, is an Italian opera soprano whose repertoire includes Verdi, Puccini, Mozart and Tchaikovsky...
(Mireille), Alain Vanzo
Alain Vanzo was a French opera singer and composer, one of few French tenors of international standing in the postwar era...
(Vincent), José van Dam
Joseph, Baron van Damme , known as José van Dam, is a Belgian bass-baritone.At the age of 17, he entered the Brussels Royal Conservatory and studied with Frederic Anspach. A year later, he graduated with diplomas and first prizes in voice and opera performance...
(Ourrias), Jane Rhodes
Jane Marie Andrée Rhodes was a French opera singer whose voice encompassed both the soprano and high mezzo-soprano ranges. Her most celebrated role was Carmen, which she sang in the opera's first ever staging at the Palais Garnier...
(Taven), Gabriel Bacquier
Gabriel Bacquier is a French operatic baritone. One of the leading baritones of the 20th century and particularly associated with the French and Italian repertories, he is considered a fine singing-actor equally at home in dramatic or comic roles.-Life and career:Gabriel Bacquier was born in...
(Maître Ramon) - Choeur et Orchestre du Capitole de Toulouse - Michel Plasson
Michel Plasson is a French conductor.Plasson was a student of Lazare Lévy at the Conservatoire de Paris. In 1962, he was a prize-winner at the International Besançon Competition for Young Conductors. He studied briefly in the United States, including time with Charles Münch...
- 1981 (Live) - Valerie Masterson
Margaret Valerie Masterson , is a retired English opera singer, a lecturer and Vice-President of British Youth Opera. After study in Italy, she began to sing opera in Europe...
(Mireille), Luis Lima
Luis Lima is an Argentine operatic tenor, who studied in Buenos Aires under Carlos Guichandut and in Sicily under Gina Cigna...
(Vincent), Jean-Philippe Lafont (Ourrias), Jane Berbié
Jane Berbié is a French mezzo-soprano particularly associated with Mozart and Rossini roles.- Life and career :Berbié was born Jeanne Bergougne, in Villefranche-de-Lauragais, Haute-Garonne, France, and studied piano and voice at the Music Conservatory in nearby Toulouse...
(Taven), Jules Bastin
Jules Bastin was a Belgian operatic bass. Born in Brussels, he made his debut in 1960 at La Monnaie, singing Charon in L'Orfeo. He appeared at major opera houses throughout Europe, including the Royal Opera House, La Scala, and the Palais Garnier; he also sang at opera houses in North and South...
(Ramon) - Suisse Romande Chorus and Orchestra - Sylvain Cambreling (Ponto)