Mireille (opera)

Mireille is an 1864 opera in five acts by Charles Gounod to a French libretto by Michel Carré after Frédéric Mistral's poem Mirèio. The vocal score is dedicated to George V of Hanover.[1]

Opera by Charles Gounod
Miolan-Carvalho in the title role in the premiere
LibrettistMichel Carré
Based onMireio
by Frédéric Mistral
19 March 1864 (1864-03-19)

Composition history

Mistral had become well known in Paris with the publication of the French prose translation of Mireio in 1859, and Gounod probably knew the work by 1861.[2] He was charmed by its originality, the story being much less contrived than many of those on the operatic stage at the time.[3] 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.[4] Gounod's biographer James Harding has argued that "what matters in this extended lyric poem is not the story but the rich tapestry of Provençal traditions, beliefs and customs that Mistral unfolds."[5]

During the course of composition Gounod spent much time in Provence (March 12 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.[6] Gounod stayed at the Hôtel de la Ville Vert in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, and was treated to a banquet by the townspeople on May 26.[3] Presenting class differences in a rural setting was not usual at the time, and as the musicologist Steven Huebner comments "some early reviewers had difficulty accepting that a 'mere' country girl could sing an aria with heroic cut such as 'En marche'."[7]

Performance history

A pre-performance run-through of the work at Gounod's house included Georges Bizet on the piano and Camille Saint-Saëns on the harmonium. Gounod and the Vicomtesse de Grandval (a composer herself) sang the solo parts.[8]

Théâtre Lyrique

The opera premiered at the Théâtre Lyrique in Paris on March 19, 1864; the first night was attended by Ivan Turgenev, who in a letter to Pauline Viardot, ridicules part of Act 3.[9]

As with the role of Marguerite in Faust, 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 to make many changes to the form and content of his opera.[10] 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.[11]

Critical reaction to the first performances was negative with accusations of Wagnerism.[12] The criticisms led to a revised version first presented on December 15, 1864, in three acts with a happy ending.[13] However, this version also failed to find an audience.[14][15] The 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.[16]


After Carvalho's company went bankrupt in 1868, the opera transferred to the Opéra-Comique, where it has had a long and varied career. The first production at the Salle Favart was on November 10, 1874, in four acts, but was poorly received. This production featured Miolan-Carvalho again in the title role, Galli-Marié as Taven and Andreloun, and Ismael appeared this time as Ramon, while Léon Melchissédec sang Ourrias; Deloffre conducted, as in the premiere run.[17]

A revival on November 29, 1889, presented by the Opéra-Comique at the Théâtre Lyrique on the Place du Chatelet, with Cécile Simonnet as Mireille and Edmond Clément as Vincent, was in three acts with a happy ending in which Mireille and Vincent marry. This version did much better, and the opera became a repertory piece, receiving 226 performances by the end of 1894.[18]

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".[19]

A new production at the Opéra-Comique, which opened on March 13, 1901, was again in five acts (although acts 4 and 5 were both abridged), used spoken dialogue, and reinstated the tragic ending.[20] The 500th performance at the Opéra-Comique took place on the December 19, 1920.[17]

On June 6, 1939, Reynaldo Hahn and Henri Büsser mounted a new production at the Opéra-Comique (revived in Arles on June 28, 1941), in which an attempt was made to revert to Gounod's original thoughts.[21] Büsser edited the music and provided orchestrations for some passages for which Gounod's full scoring had been lost (most notably, much of the aria in the Crau scene, and Mireille's death in the finale).[21][22] Subsequent productions have generally followed Büsser's edition. Whether it is a true reflection of the original score is doubtful: spoken dialogue was probably used at the première rather than recitatives, and the end of Act II was originally a repeat of the concertato, not a recollection of the Chanson de Magali.[23] However, the work continued to be successful and by 1950 over 800 performances of Mireille had been given at the Opéra-Comique.[17]

Other productions in France

Mireille was produced at the Gaîté-Lyrique on May 11, 1930.[24]

A notable production was given on July 24, 1954 at the Baux de Provence with five thousand seats borrowed from the arenas in Nîmes and Arles, as part of the Aix-en-Provence Festival; the same cast and orchestra recorded the work under Cluytens a few days later in Aix.[25]

Mireille was given its Paris Opera premiere in September 2009 in a production by the company's new director Nicolas Joël and was released on DVD.[26]

Productions outside France

The opera was never as popular outside France. James Henry Mapleson produced the London premiere on July 5, 1864, at Her Majesty's Theatre (in Italian as Mirella). It was presented in five acts but with a new happy ending that Gounod later incorporated into the 3-act version at the Théâtre Lyrique in December. It was also likely the first version of the opera to include the recitatives (which Gounod originally intended for use in foreign productions). The cast included Thérèse Tietjens as Mireille (Mirella), Antonio Giuglini as Vincent (Vicenzo), Zelia Trebelli-Bettini as Taven (Tavena), Charles Santley as Ourrias (Urias), Mélanie-Charlotte Reboux as Vincennette (Vincenzina), Elisa Volpini as Andreloun (Andreluno), Marcel Junca as Ramon (Raimondo), and Édouard Gassier as Ambroise (Ambrogio), with Luigi Arditi as the conductor, but it was only a succès d'estime.[27] On April 29, 1887, Mapleson revived the opera with Emma Nevada as Mireille at the Covent Garden theatre, where it was also given in Italian with the happy ending, but in the compressed 3-act form.[28] On June 10, 1891, it was sung at the same theatre in French, and on December 4, 1899, at the Guildhall School of Music (in an English translation by Henry Fothergill Chorley[29]). It was seen in Dublin on September 29, 1864 (in Italian).[24]

Mireille was presented in French in Belgium: in Antwerp on March 10, 1865, and Brussels on May 12, with further performances in later years.[24] Adelina Patti sang the title role in an Italian production in St Petersburg on February 9, 1874, with her husband Nicolini as Vincent.[24][11]

The opera was first seen in the United States at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia on November 17, 1864 (in German).[30] It was first given in Chicago on September 13, 1880 (in English), and in New York on December 18, 1884 (in Italian).[24] It was performed in the original French at the French Opera House in New Orleans on 29 January, 1885.[31] The Metropolitan Opera presented the opera on February 28, 1919, with Maria Barrientos as Mireille, Charles Hackett as Vincent, Kathleen Howard as Taven, and Clarence Whitehill as Ourrias and Pierre Monteux conducting. Despite the line-up, the production was only given four times, and the opera was never revived.[32]


Role Voice type[33] Premiere Cast,[34] March 19, 1864
(Conductor: Adolphe Deloffre)
Mireille soprano Marie Caroline Miolan-Carvalho
Vincent, her lover tenor François Morini
Ourrias, a bull-tender baritone Ismaël
Maître Ramon, father of Mireille bass Jules Petit
Taven, an old woman mezzo-soprano Constance-Caroline Faure-Lefèbvre
Vincenette, Vincent's sister soprano[35] Mélanie-Charlotte Reboux
Andreloun, a shepherd mezzo-soprano Constance-Caroline Faure-Lefèbvre
Maître Ambroise, father of Vincent bass Émile Wartel
Clémence, a friend of Mireille soprano Mme Albrecht
A ferryman baritone Peyront
Mulberry gatherers, townspeople, friends of Ourrias, spirits of the Rhône, farmhands, pilgrims


Place: Provence
Time: 19th Century

Act 1

A mulberry 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 if anything befalls one of them. The girls are heard singing the opening chorus in the distance.

Act 2

In front of the Arles Amphitheatre the same afternoon.

The crowd is singing and dancing a farandole 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.

Act 3

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

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.

Act 4

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 desert

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.

Act 5

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 overture, 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-like allegretto.[3]
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.[36]
The farandole which opens Act 2 is more in the character of a rigaudon or bourrée, 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.[3] 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.[37]
The Chanson d’Andreloun was originally written for a projected opera 'Ivan IV'.[38] The musette 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’.[3]
Overall the score "reminds us of the abundance and variety of Gounod's gifts and of his unfailing imaginative grasp of the lyric stage."[37]


  • 2009 – Inva Mula (Mireille), Charles Castronovo (Vincent), Franck Ferrari (Ourrias), Alain Vernhes (Ramon), Sylvie Brunet (Taven), Anne-Catherine Gillet (Vincenette), Sébastien Droy (Andreloun); Orchestra and Chorus of the Opéra national de Paris, Marc Minkowski (conductor); Nicolas Joël (production), Ezio Frigerio (sets), Franca Squarciapino (costumes), Vinicio Cheli (lighting). Label: FRA Musica, cat. no. 502 (2 DVDs: 152:00), recorded live in September at the Palais Garnier in Paris. OCLC 762922255.


  1. Mireille, opéra en 5 actes et 7 tableaux. Editions Choudens, Paris, 1976.
  2. Huebner 1992.
  3. Condé G. Mireille (notes for the 1979 EMI recording).
  4. Huebner 1990, p. 138.
  5. Harding 1973, p. 127.
  6. Bonnet M. Le Souvenir de Gounod. Saint-Rémy, (Exhibition Guide), 1963.
  7. Huebner 1992, p. 410.
  8. Curtiss 1958, p. 146.
  9. Huebner 1990, p. 151,
  10. Huebner 1990, pp. 146–150.
  11. Ferrant 1942, p.
  12. Curtiss 1958, p. 147.
  13. Huebner 1990, p. 141. The happy ending (lieto fine) had first been presented in London in Italian on 5 July. The December production at the Théâtre Lyrique compressed the last three acts of the 5-act version into a single act, omitting the encounter between Ourrias and Vincent, Ourrias's death scene on the Rhône, the "Choeur des moissoneurs", and Mireille's big aria in the Crau scene. Miolan-Carvalho, a lyric coloratura soprano, was apparently incapable of singing this dramatic soprano music satisfactorily.
  14. Walsh 1981, p. 177.
  15. Huebner 1990, p. 141.
  16. Huebner 1990, p. 153.
  17. Wolff 1953, p. 123–124.
  18. Wild & Charlton 2005, p. 333; Letellier 2010, pp. 361–363. Wolff 1953, p. 123–124, states that the 1874 version was in three acts. Letellier says the 1889 revival was first performed on 29 October.
  19. Streatfield RA. The Opera. London, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1925.
  20. Gounod 1901; Wild & Charlton 2005, p. 333; Letellier 2010, pp. 361–363.
  21. Hahn R. La version originale de Mireille. La Revue d'Arles, June 1941.
  22. Wild & Charlton 2005, p. 333; Huebner 1990, pp. 141–143. According to Huebner, although Büsser consulted the full-score autograph, many pages of cut music had been removed during the first run of the opera, and these are the passages which Büsser orchestrated. Subsequently, in 1980 during the transfer of material from the archives of the Opéra-Comique to the Bibliothèque de l'Opéra, original orchestral parts were discovered which revealed much of the lost instrumentation, including 34 bars in the 'Air de la Crau' and almost the complete finale of the last act.
  23. Huebner1990, pp. 141–143. Huebner makes several arguments, including that the recitatives are not in the original orchestral parts and are also not found in the first edition of the vocal score, and that several reviews of the premiere refer to the work as an opéra-comique.
  24. Loewenberg 1978, column 967.
  25. Baeck E. André Cluytens: Itinéraire d’un chef d’orchestre. Chapter V - 3 Festival d'art lyrique d'Aix en Provence. Éditions Mardaga, Wavre, 2009.
  26. The DVD is the only recording of the opera recommended in The Gramophone Classical Music Guide 2012 and was "Editor's Choice" in the Gramophone (March 2011). It was also given generally positive reviews by Eric Myers in Opera News (April 2011) and Barry Brenesal in Fanfare (January/February 2012).
  27. Rosenthal 1958, p. 145; The Musical World, July 16, 1864; The Reader, July 9, 1864; Loewenberg 1978, column 967; Huebner 1990, p. 141. (Huebner mistakenly places this performance at the Covent Garden theatre; corrected in Huebner 2001, p. 338).
  28. Rosenthal 1958, p. 219; The Athenaeum, May 7, 1887; Gounod (n.d. [c. 1880]).
  29. Gounod n.d. [c. 1880].
  30. Huebner 2001; Loewenberg 1978, column 967.
  31. "Chronology". www.msu.edu.
  32. Mireille at the Met Opera Archive.
  33. Huebner 2001, p. 338; Kobbé 1997, p. 282; Gounod 1901.
  34. Walsh 1981, p. 317; Huebner 1990, p. 294; Ferrant 1942, p. 23. Huebner and Ferrant both say that Wartel also sang the role of the ferryman.
  35. Clémence and Vincenette are in fact listed as Dugazon voices. The term is derived from the French singer Louise-Rosalie Dugazon (1755-1821) and refers to either a light soubrette romantic role, or by contrast a mature young woman, both second female roles with technically simpler music (see Sadie 1992, vol. 1, p. 1270).
  36. Canteloube J. Anthologie des Chants populaires Français Tome I, 1947. p34, p37. However on LP LDX 74480 'Le galoubet provençal', Jean Coutarel plays a somewhat different La Cansoun de Magali.
  37. Macdonald H. The Score in English National Opera programme, London, 1983.
  38. Dean W. Bizet's Ivan IV from Fanfare for Ernest Newman, ed van Thal H, 1955.


  • Curtiss, Mina (1958). Bizet and His World. New York: Knopf. OCLC 600093.
  • Ferrant, Guy (1942). La Vraie Mireille de Gounod. Avignon: Aubanel. Listings at WorldCat.
  • Gounod, Charles (n.d. [c. 1880]). Mireille (piano-vocal score of the 3-act version, edited by Arthur Sullivan and J. Pittman, in Italian with Henry F. Chorley's English translation). London: Boosey. File #140315 at IMSLP.
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  • Huebner Steven (1990). The Operas of Charles Gounod. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-315329-5.
  • Huebner, Steven (1992). "Mireille" in Sadie 1992, vol. 3, pp. 408–410.
  • Huebner, Steven (2001). "Charles Gounod" in Holden 2001, pp. 334–340.
  • Kobbé, Gustav (1997). The New Kobbé's Opera Book, edited by The Earl of Harewood and Antony Peattie. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons. ISBN 978-0-399-14332-8.
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  • Loewenberg, Alfred (1978). Annals of Opera 1597–1940 (third edition, revised). Totowa, New Jersey: Rowman and Littlefield. ISBN 978-0-87471-851-5.
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  • Sadie, Stanley, editor (1992). The New Grove Dictionary of Opera (4 volumes). London: Macmillan. ISBN 978-1-56159-228-9.
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  • Wild, Nicole; Charlton, David (2005). Théâtre de l'Opéra-Comique Paris: répertoire 1762-1972. Sprimont, Belgium: Editions Mardaga. ISBN 978-2-87009-898-1.
  • Wolff, Stéphane (1953). Un demi-siècle d'Opéra-Comique (1900-1950). Paris: André Bonne. OCLC 44733987, 2174128, 78755097
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