Gounod, Charles: Mireille
Act 1: Valse-ariette, “O légère hirondelle” (Mireille)
Aria Talk •
Editor's Note: Aria Talk focuses not on the tried-and-true pieces you undoubtedly already know, but on somewhat off-the-beaten-track arias. The hope is that this music will prove a refreshing musical and interpretive change not only for you, the performer, but also for those hearing you in auditions.
Back in the days when prima donnas ruled the roost, Marie Caroline Miolan-Carvalho, Gounod’s first Mireille in early 1864, insisted that, for the revival later that year, she had to have a coloratura showpiece added to her role. (She was the wife of the theater’s general director, which surely gave her some added “pull”!) The composer obliged with “O légère hirondelle,” often cut in performance since not every Mireille has the vocal goods to manage it. Innumerable big coloratura numbers are too long for audition purposes, so check this piece out — it clocks in at barely three minutes.
Mireille, a lovely girl from a village in Provence, is the daughter of a successful farmer, Maître Ramon. She’s in love with sweet young Vincent, a humble basket-weaver, and he with her. To Taven, the fortuneteller, this is definitely not good news and she tells Mireille that her father will never consent to their marriage (as it turns out, Maître Ramon has Ourrias, the macho bullherder, in mind for his daughter). Taven’s forebodings don’t disturb Mireille, who asks the “légPre hirondelle” (swift swallow) to fly to her beloved, tell him of her “doux tourment” (sweet torment) and of her love. She knows that Vincent will believe her promise to be true to him.
This ariette needs a truly secure florid technique — by comparison, “Je veux vivre” is for beginners. Brilliant trills, complicated bravura passagework, pinpoint staccati — it’s all got to be perfectly in place. You need great rhythmic energy, of course, to maintain the swing of the waltz. And you can’t just stand there and sing; physically and facially you should do your best to present an appealing young girl in the first throes of true love.
Recording: Sumi Jo in recital entitled “Les Bijoux,” Erato #23140; Lily Pons in recital entitled “Coloratura Assoluta,” Sony International #60655
Score: Aria available separately, also complete p-v score, both from Classical Vocal Reprints [http://www.classicalvocalrep.com], 800-298-7474
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