Opera Scotland

Attack on the Mill L'Attaque du moulin; The Attack on the Mill

Tours by decade

1910s - 2 tours

1916 - Carl Rosa Opera Company
Fully Staged with Orchestra
1917 - Carl Rosa Opera Company
Fully Staged with Orchestra

Tours by location


Alfred Bruneau (born Paris, 3 Mar 1857; died Paris, 15 June 1934)


Louis Gallet


Short story L'Attaque du moulin in Soirées de Médan (1877) by Émile Zola (1840-1902)



First Performance: Paris (Opéra-Comique), 23 November 1893.

First Performance in UK: London (Covent Garden), 4 July 1894.

First Performance in Scotland: Glasgow (Theatre Royal), 23 March 1916.



The most important influence on Bruneau was his friend the highly political writer Emile Zola, and many of Bruneau's operas were derived from Zola's writings.

The opera received its British premiere at Covent Garden soon after its opening. While Zola's original 1877 story was set during the very recent Franco-Prussian War of 1870, the opera was relocated to the slightly more remote era of the French Revolution. When the Carl Rosa Opera Company launched its English-language premiere (Birmingham, 15 October 1915) the political situation was somewhat different. There was pressure in the UK for the outright banning of performance of music by German composers such as Beethoven and Wagner, so French equivalents became popular. The Bruneau opera could now be set in Zola's original period, with sympathetic French and Belgian characters receiving brutal treatment at the hands of the German invaders.

The Carl Rosa Opera Company launched its English-language production of the opera in Birmingham on 15 October 1915, after which it joined the touring repertoire. While the opera's Scottish premiere was at first announced for the Edinburgh Lyceum on 3 March 1916, that was, without explanation, replaced by Faust, and the work was eventually seen nearly three weeks later in Glasgow, at the Theatre Royal.

It was eventually seen in Edinburgh the following year - The  Scotsman of Saturday, 31 March 1917, is quite enthusiastic: 'The whole thing is a protest against the savage futility of war. The opera adheres substantially to the original story, and Bruneau has set it to music which is a kind of free recitative, diversified with episodes of a more melodic cast, the whole being based upon an original and expressive orchestral accompaniment. There is a great deal of charm in the introduction, descriptive of rustic peace and contentment, and the scene of the betrothal merry-making, upon which the curtain rises, while scarcely presenting sufficiently well-defined matter to give it a ready appeal with the general public, is nevertheless full of clever characterization.'


Main Characters

Merlier, an old miller (bass)

Françoise, his daughter (soprano)

Dominique, a Belgian peasant, betrothed to her (tenor)

Marcelline, the mill servant (mezzo-soprano)

German sentry (tenor)



It deals with an episode in the Franco-Prussian War. A mill on the frontier is held as a post by French troops; it is attacked by Germans, and in time the French retire, and the Germans take possession. Dominique, the prospective son-in-law of the Miller, has already handled a rifle to good effect in the defence,, but remaining behind when the French leave, is condemned to be shot as an unauthorised combatant. He escapes, and a German sentry is found dead. Summary vengeance is taken by the Germans as they give way before the returning French. It is a victory, but meanwhile the lover, discovered has been shot, a stray bullet has killed the old miller,, and the mill itself is a ruin.

The Cast

 a Belgian peasant, betrothed to Françoise
 the miller's daughter
French captain
 housekeeper at the mill
 an elderly miller
Prussian captain
Prussian sentinel

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