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Thomas: Mignon / Pelletier, Stevens, Pinza, Benzell, Melton

Release Date: 11/01/2011 
Label:  Sony   Catalog #: 7961922  
Composer:  Ambroise Thomas
Performer:  Mimi BenzellJames MeltonEzio PinzaRisë Stevens
Conductor:  Wilfrid Pelletier
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Metropolitan Opera ChorusMetropolitan Opera Orchestra
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Mono 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

THOMAS Mignon Wilfred Pelletier, cond; Risë Stevens ( Mignon ); Ezio Pinza ( Lothario ); Mimi Benzell ( Philine ); James Melton ( Wilhelm ); Donald Dame ( Laërte ); John Gurney ( Jarno ); Lucille Browning ( Read more class="ARIAL12i">Frédéric ); Metropolitan Op O & Ch SONY 88697 96192 2 (2 CDs: 138:31) Live: 1/27/45

In this installment of its Metropolitan Opera series, Sony has released a historical recording of an opera that is rarely performed today, and there are relatively few performances of this opera available on CD. At the Met Mignon was performed in the late 1920s and through the 1930s and 1940s. In checking the index of Opera magazine I found only three performances of this work listed in the last 10 years, one in France in 2007, and one in New York City in 2005. The third was in 2001 in Toulouse, and in his review of it in Opera Hugh Canning wrote, “In the years after its premiere at the (old) Opéra-Comique in 1866, Abrose Thomas’s Mignon clocked up hundreds of performances, almost challenging Gounod’s Faust as one of he most popular French operas of the 19th century before Carmen. By the second half of the 20th century, this enchantingly tuneful and sweetly sentimental work had all but disappeared from the repertoire.”

The stars of this performance are Risë Stevens, who first sang the role at the Met in 1938, and the great Ezio Pinza. Stevens sings elegantly, and Pinza’s Lothario is magnificent. Mimi Benzell is a competent Philine, but since this is a live performance at times she is difficult to hear. Lucille Browning in the trouser role of the young Frédéric sings her solo aria quite well. The three supporting roles are all well sung by John Gurney as Jarno, Donald Dame as Laërte, and Osie Hawkins as Antonio. James Melton’s Wilhelm is unfortunately nasal and he lacks the grace necessary for the role. He is merely competent.

Wilfred Pelletier’s conducting is excellent. He has a wonderful understanding of the music.

A totally complete recording of this opera was first issued on four LPs, and is available on CD. It features Marilyn Horne as Mignon, Ruth Welting as Philine, Frederica von Stade as Frédéric, Alain Vanzo as Wilhelm, and Nicola Zaccaria as Lothario, and is conducted by Antonio de Almeida. That set was reviewed in Opera by Rodney Milnes, who wrote, “Here the recitatives are used, and anyone who thinks Haydn’s are boring should try sitting through these horribly wooden effusions.” The timing of that recording is 175 minutes. This recording is 138 minutes and uses the standard cuts principally of the recitatives; all the arias are present. It also uses the happy ending; Thomas also wrote an ending in which Mignon dies.

The sound is sometimes quite bright from this remastered live recording, and depending on where the singers are on the stage they are at times loud and at other times hard to hear. Overall, however, that is not too much of a distraction. The notes contain a listing of the tracks and a plot summary. Since there are rather few recordings of this opera and because Stevens and Pinza are so wonderful, anyone interested in this tuneful work should get it.

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Works on This Recording

Mignon by Ambroise Thomas
Performer:  Mimi Benzell (Soprano), James Melton (Tenor), Ezio Pinza (Bass),
Risë Stevens (Mezzo Soprano)
Conductor:  Wilfrid Pelletier
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Metropolitan Opera Chorus,  Metropolitan Opera Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1866; France 
Date of Recording: 1/27/1945 

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