Charles Gounod: Mireille
Inva Mula (Mireille), Charles Castronovo (Vincent), Franck Ferrari (Ourrias), Alain Vernhes (Maître Ramon), Anne-Catherine Gillet (Vincenette), Sylvie Brunet (Taven), Sébastien Droy (Andreloun), Nicolas Cavallier (Maître Ambroise), Amel Brahim-Djelloul (Clémence), Ugo Rabec (le passeur), Chœur et Orchestre de l’Opéra national de Paris, Patrick Marie Aubert (chorus master), Marc Minkowski (conductor), Nicolas Joel (stage director), Ezio Frigerio (set designer), Franca Squarciapino (costume designer), Vinicio Cheli (lighting designer), Patrick Ségot (choreography), François Roussillon (film director)
Recording: Palais Garnier, Paris, France (September 11, 12 and 14, 2009) – 151’
A co-production by l’Opéra national de Paris and François Roussillon et Associés
Naxos 2.110683-84 (or Blu-ray NBD0126V) – NTSC 16: 9 – PCM Stereo and English and French DTS 5.0 – Region: 0 (Distributed by Naxos of America) – Subtitles in French, English, German, Japanese and Korean – Booklet in English and French
“I wanted to open my term of office with Mireille at the Palais Garnier opera house...And Mireille is undoubtedly his [Gounod’s] masterpiece. It was an honour for me to introduce this work into the repertory of the Paris Opera where it had never been performed.”
Nicolas Joel (Paris Opera Director from 2009 to 2014)
...so we begin the journey into Charles Gounod’s affable œuvre that’s been often sidelined while being wedged between the tried and true Faust (1859) and Roméo et Juliette (1867). Mireille, not without its frequent alterations since the premiere on March 19, 1864, and whose subject matter centers around country life in Provence, is one of Gounod’s overlooked gems: uncomplicated characters, pastoral charm and confrontations teetering between reality and the supernatural. Left behind are heavier theatric threads and notable personages found in many of Gounod’s operas, including later works such as Cinq-Mars (1877) and Le Tribut de Zamora (1881).
Gounod’s affection towards Frédéric Mistral’s epic poem, Mirèio, serves as the opera’s pivotal backdrop which also makes the music idyllically fresh and conditioned with simplified decorum. Mireille trades demonstrative boisterousness for glimpses into humble souls, and it only takes François Roussillon’s brilliant video edits to read the situation by focusing on the eyes...yes, the eyes! Nuances resonate!
Principals deliver superb performances, some a bit stronger than others. Sylvie Brunet’s mesmerizing witch, Taven, places a spell on Franck Ferrari whose virile, magnetic baritone transport delves us deeper into his Ourrias (though, visually, his drowning closing Act III is sadly insipid). Inva Mula’s ingénue draws deeper pathos through her fruity-toned register while the lyrically light timbre of Charles Castronovo, as Vincent, is tight and squeaky-clean despite mildly skimming along the volumetric scale. And while Anne-Catherine Gillet’s Vincinette brings with it an aura of silky, radiant compassion, the delivery via Alain Vernhes (Maître Ramon) is strikingly poignant. We can’t forget about all the wondrous voices beneath chorus master Patrick Marie Aubert whose beautiful blends elevate Mireille to superiority.
The senses are heightened by strengths in supportive disciplines, namely, lighting under the guidance of Vinicio Cheli whose illumination upon l’Eglise des Saintes-Maries gives a demi-Caravaggio-esque contrast with broadening proportions. Overall, M. Cheli’s talents are magical. This enhances the understated watercolor washes found within Franca Squarciapino’s garb...colors exude modesty and an Easter-like softness. Patrick Ségot’s choreography, while exquisitely balanced and proportioned, Act II’s opening farandole gestures towards being jejune and a tad cloddy.
Nicolas Joel deserves much of the opera's revitalization by opening l’Opéra national de Paris’ 2009-2010 season with Mireille. Immediately following was the first capture under the umbrella of Fra Musica. Naxos’ re-release, unfortunately, is devoid of bonus interviews with conductor Marc Minkowski, Nicolas Joel and Christophe Ghristi.
With only a paucity of recordings in existence (including EMI’s delightful 1980 Michel Plasson CD), along with induction into l’Opéra national de Paris and the loss of two French greats, Nicolas Joel (2020) and Franck Ferrari (2015), this Mireille is deserving of four stars. Sublimely tasteful and immaculate.