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Thomas: Mignon / Almeida, Horne, Welting, Von Stade, Vanzo, Zaccaria, Philharmonia Orchestra

Release Date: 11/22/2011 
Label:  Sony   Catalog #: 88697527332   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Ambroise Thomas
Performer:  Marilyn HorneAlain VanzoRuth WeltingNicola Zaccaria,   ... 
Conductor:  Antonio de Almeida
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Ambrosian Opera ChorusPhilharmonia Orchestra
Number of Discs: 3 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

"It was inevitable that sooner or later the renaissance of interest in French opera should alight on Thomas's once immensely popular Mignon. Less than 30 years after its creation in 1866 it had reached its 1,000th performance in Paris (witnessed then by its elderly composer) and its fame was comfirmed in every major opera house. In more than one sense, a work like Mignon held the place of the musical today, an entertainment for a very wide public comprising speech, good tunes (cleverly exploited), invigorating choruses and dances, star roles for certain singers. Like the musical it was often altered and adapted as it moved from one centre to another, either to satisfy the modes of performance in a particular city or else the whims of a Read more famous singer. In the case of Mignon, recitatives were composed and an Italian translation made for London where also Volpini, the Philine, demanded (and got) an extra aria. For Germany, presumably not to offend Goethe-lovers' sensibilities, an alternative, tragic ending was devised.

That German finale is the only omission from this admirably comprehensive recording. Not only are Philine's extra air and the original, and longer (also happy), end added as appendices but we are also vouchsafed the fuller versions of every other number. Thus none of the optional cuts in my old score is made, while the extended versions of Lothario's "Fugitive et tremblant" in Act I and of Mignon's "Styrienne" (both done for the Drury Lane performances in 1870) are offered. It is perhaps a pity that we have the recitatives rather than the dialogue (because that does not allow the passages of melodrarne to stand out so effectively) but as the former are by the composer, there can be little to complain of on that account either. What of the quality of the music? Well, the famous numbers, so often recorded in the days of 78 rpm discs, remain by far the most telling parts of the score. The rest is out of a rather anonymous mid-nineteenth-century French stock-pot, but as those numbers form a substantial part of the work, there is naturally much to admire. Thomas's melodic gift was hardly second to Gounod's and his ability to write sensuously and with much feeling for his heroine cannot be denied; her music is the most subtly orchestrated. What Thomas lacked was his successor Massenet's tauter, more deeply characterized and more flexible construction.

Mignon is here affectingly sung by Marilyn Horne. She easily sustains the very slow speed adopted for "Connais tu le pays?", so it would be perhaps churlish to add that she does not quite capture the piece's "pathetic, dream-like nostalgia", mentioned in the old Record Guide, which is to be found in versions of the past by Cernay and Supervia, among others. Horne, not unexpectedly, fulfils all the coloratura possibilities of the extended version of the "Styrienne" (sung correctly in E flat, not D), but she really comes into her own in the impassioned scene later in Act 2, "Elle est la" where Mignon almost commits suicide in her despair at Wilhelm's infatuation for the flighty Philine. This is also Thomas at his best, relating his music surely to the needs of the text.

Von Stade's delightfully fresh and liquid sound as Frederic (a part originally assigned to a buffo tenor but adapted by the composer for the mezzo Trebelli at Drury Lane) leaves one guessing what she might have made of the title part. The Gavotte inserted for Trebelli is done breezily and cleanly by von Stade, whose Frederic thoroughly deserves to win the hand (eventually) of Ruth Welting's enchanting Philine. Welting brings just the right coquettish charm to the part and sings with the light insouciance of a French soprano of an earlier generation. The Polonaise, very difficult in its uncut version, has bright and natural coloratura and excellent trills. The Forlane, in the appendix (its main theme appears in the Overture), is no less expertly and winningly sung—to a flute and harpsichord accompaniment (Thomas didn't orchestrate it). Alain Vanzo follows his recent Nadir in HMV's Pecheurs de Perles with an even more accomplished performance, elegant yet involved, as Wilhelm Meister. His timbre, very similar to that of Alfredo Kraus, is ideally suited to the part, and his versions of "Adieu, Mignon" and "Elle ne croyait pas", while not effacing those of all his most famous predecessors, deserve to be spoken of in the same breath as theirs. Old Lothario is a gift of a part for a warm bass. The veteran Zaccaria, calling to mind at times Vanni Marcoux, at others late Pinza, makes the most of it. The tone spreads at the top of his register but is at all times greatly sympathetic, even in a rather too emphatic account of the Berceuse. Battedou is a lively Laerte. Almeida obviously loves the piece, but as I have implied, he doesn't always choose his speeds as carefully as he might. He secures idiomatic playing from his orchestra."

-- A.B., Gramophone [10/1978] Review of original LP
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Works on This Recording

Mignon by Ambroise Thomas
Performer:  Marilyn Horne (Mezzo Soprano), Alain Vanzo (Tenor), Ruth Welting (Soprano),
Nicola Zaccaria (Bass), Frederica Von Stade (Mezzo Soprano), Claude Meloni (Bass),
André Battedou (Tenor), Paul Hudson (Bass)
Conductor:  Antonio de Almeida
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Ambrosian Opera Chorus,  Philharmonia Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1866; France 
Date of Recording: 1977 
Venue:  All Saints' Church, Tooting, London 
Length: 194 Minutes 55 Secs. 
Language: French 

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