In 2009, Frédéric Mistral’s tale of love and loss in Provence came to the Opéra de Paris with a new production of Gounod’s 1864 opera Mireille. Nicolas Joel’s naturalistic staging frames the accomplished performances of Albanian soprano Inva Mula as Mireille and American tenor Charles Castronovo as her ardent country lover Vincent.
The traditional lifestyle of France’s southern region as captured in Frédéric Mistral’s Mireille, an epic poem that evokes this ancient culture in the region’s native Occitàn language. Fascinated by the Provençal world the poem describes, Gounod decided to make Mireille into an opera, and his passion for the project led him to travel to the region and meet Mistral himself on multiple occasions during the composition process. Together with librettist Michel Carré, Gounod developed a five-act opera that closely mirrors the poet’s original French prose translation of his epic. Its 1864 premiere was met with mixed success, leading subsequent performances to include widely-differing cuts and revisions (and even a happy ending to replace the original tragic one!).
The plot tells the story of Mireille, a young woman from a good Provençal family who would prefer to marry the poor farmer Vincent rather than Ourrias, a rich man chosen by her father. When Ourrias injures Vincent and leaves him for dead, Mireille decides to go on a pilgrimage to Saintes-Maries to ask for Vincent’s recovery. Tragically, in crossing the La Crau desert she dies of heat stroke and is called to heaven by a choir of angels.
Photo: © Agathe Poupeney