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Music Academy Revives Thomas’ ‘Mignon’ Opera

Watch the romantic comedy unfold in a Sunday matinee at the Lobero

The Music Academy of the West’s opera this summer is Ambroise Thomas’ romantic comedy Mignon.

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Ambroise Thomas was director of the Paris Conservatory from 1871 until his death in 1896.

The next performance in the Lobero Theatre will be at 2:30 p.m. Sunday.

The cast, all academy vocal fellows (students), includes soprano Simone Osborne (Mignon), tenor Joshua Stewart (Wilhelm), soprano Célia Zambon Wollenberg (Philine), mezzo-soprano Jennifer Feinstein (Frederic), baritone Gutemberg Amaral (Lothario) and bass-baritone Richard Ollarsaba (Giarno).

Conducting the Festival Orchestra will be George Manahan, and Casey Stangl will be the stage director. Jean-François Revon designed the sets, Mark Somerfield the lighting and Anna Bjornsdotter the costumes.

It will be good to hear Mignon sung in French, which is the language of the original libretto, by Jules Barbier and Michel Carré, and the native language of Thomas — who was, in his own day, as well-known and influential as a pedagogue as he was a composer. (He was director of the Paris Conservatory from 1871 until his death in 1896.) Mignon was first sung in this country, and achieved its greatest popularity, in Italian. From 1883 until 1927, all performances of it at the Met were in Italian.

In the latter year, it was revived in French, but it was not as popular — by then, Americans were rather sick of it. Mignon’s poignant aria, “Connais-tu le pays?” would crop up on a famous singer’s recital program. Lily Pons could always create a sensation with Philine’s “Je suis Titania,” and tenors, mostly Italians such as Beniamino Gigli and Giuseppe Di Stefano, like to squeeze tears out with Wilhelm’s “Addio, Mignon. Fa core!” or “Ah! Non credevi tu …,” but the opera as a whole has been fading in memory. A pity. Perhaps it is too exquisite, too nuanced, too delicate for American tastes.

Mignon bears pretty much the same relation to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship, it’s source, as another of Thomas’ operas, Hamlet, bears to the play by William Shakespeare. That is to say, the face is familiar. The novel’s view of its protagonist is largely ironic; the libretto’s view is exclusively sentimental. Irony doesn’t work very well on stage; audiences tend to resent it, even if they get it. Anyway, who goes to an opera for wit and self-analysis?

Tickets to Mignon are $68. Click here to purchase tickets online, or call the Lobero box office at 805.963.0761 or the academy hot line at 805.969.8787.

— Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributor.

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