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by Jules Barbier

Genre: Drama, Operetta
Format of Original Source: Plot summary
Recommended Adaptation Length: 60 Minutes

Candidate for Adaptation? Not Likely


The story of “Mignon,” Thomas’s universally popular opera, is based upon Goethe’s “Wilhelm Meister.” Mignon, the heroine, who is of noble birth, was stolen in her childhood by gypsies. Her mother died shortly afterwards, and her father, disguised as Lotario, the harper, has long and vainly sought for her. At the opening of the opera, a strolling band of actors, among them Filina and Laertes, arrive at a German inn on their way to the castle of a neighboring prince, where they are to perform. At the same time a gypsy band appears and arranges to give the guests an entertainment. Mignon, who is with the band, is ordered to dance, but being tired, she refuses. The leader of the band rushes at her, but Lotario, the old harper, intercedes in her behalf, whereupon he is singled out for assault, but is saved by the wandering student, Wilhelm Meister. To spare her any further persecution, he engages her as his page, and they follow on in the suite of Filina, to whom he is devoted. Touched by his kindness to her, Mignon falls in love with him; but he, ignorant of her passion, becomes more and more a victim to the actress’s fascinations. When they arrive at the castle, all enter except Mignon, who is left outside. Maddened by jealousy, she is about to drown herself, but is restrained by the notes of Lotario’s harp. She rushes to him for counsel, and invokes vengeance upon all in the castle. After the entertainment the guests come out, and Filina sends Mignon in for some flowers she has left. Suddenly flames appear in the window. Lotario has fired the castle. Wilhelm rushes in and brings out the insensible Mignon in his arms. In the dénouement Wilhelm discovers her attachment to him, and frees himself from Filina’s fascinations. A casket containing a girdle Mignon had worn in childhood, a prayer which she repeats, and the picture of her mother convince Lotario that she is his daughter, and Wilhelm and Mignon are united.


A girl stolen by gypsies.  If that’s a story you want to tell, you might look to a real-life version in today’s headlines.  This plot is creaky and belongs in the world of 19th-century opera where it’s comfortable.


A word of caution: This plot summary was written by 19th-century literary critic George Upton, who often mixes personal opinion with summation. You would be advised to consult the original source material, if the general plot appeals to you.


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