The Daughter of the Regiment

Marie is a spirited young woman who was orphaned as an infant and improbably raised by a French army regiment. Unaware of her aristocratic lineage, she’s fallen for a handsome peasant and Will she marry for love? Or choose her social status? (Hint: There’s a happy ending for all.)

Synopsis

La fille du Regiment
Music by Gaetano Donizetti
Libretto by Georges Henri Vernoy de Saint-Georges and Jean-François Bayard

First performance: February 11, 1840; L’Opéra Comique, Paris

ACT I

The Tyrolean mountains. On their way to Austria, the terrified Marquise of Berkenfield and her butler, Hortensius, have paused in their journey because they have found the French army blocking their way. When the marquise hears from the villagers that the French troops have at last retreated, she comments on the crude ways of the French people. Hortensius asks Sulpice, sergeant of the 21st regiment, to let the marquise continue
on. Sulpice is joined by Marie, the mascot, or “daughter,” of the regiment, which adopted her as an orphaned child. When Sulpice questions her about a young man she has been seen with, she explains that he is a local Tyrolean who—though an enemy—once saved her life. Troops of the 21st arrive with a prisoner: this same Tyrolean, Tonio, who says he has been looking for Marie. She steps in to save him, and while he toasts his new friends, Marie sings the regimental song. Tonio is ordered to follow the soldiers, but he escapes and returns to declare his love to Marie. Sulpice surprises them, and Marie must admit to Tonio that she can only marry a soldier from the 21st.

The Marquise of Berkenfield asks Sulpice for an escort to return her to her castle. When he hears the name Berkenfield, Sulpice remembers a letter he discovered near the young Marie when she was found. The marquise soon admits that she knew the girl’s father and says that Marie is the long-lost daughter of her sister. The child had been left in the care of the marquise, but was lost on a battlefield. Shocked by the girl’s rough manners, the marquise is determined to take her niece to her castle and to give her a proper education. Tonio has enlisted so that he can marry Marie, but she has to leave both her regiment and the man she loves.

ACT II

The Marquise has arranged a marriage between Marie and Scipion, nephew of the Duchess of Krakenthorp. Sulpice has joined the marquise at the Berkenfield castle, recovering from an injury and supposed to help her with her plans. The marquise gives Marie a singing lesson, accompanying her at the piano. Encouraged by Sulpice, Marie slips in phrases of the regimental song, and the marquise loses her temper. Left alone, Marie thinks
about the meaninglessness of money and position. She hears soldiers marching in the distance and is delighted when the whole regiment files into the hall. Tonio, Marie, and Sulpice are reunited. Tonio asks for Marie’s hand, declaring that Marie is his whole life, but the marquise declares her niece engaged to another man and dismisses Tonio. Alone with Sulpice, the marquise confesses the truth: Marie is her own illegitimate daughter whom she abandoned, fearing social disgrace.

Hortensius announces the arrival of the wedding party, headed by the Duchess of Krakenthorp. Marie refuses to leave her room, but when Sulpice tells her that the marquise is her mother, the surprised girl declares that she cannot go against her mother’s wishes and agrees to marry a man that she does not love. As she is about to sign the marriage contract, the soldiers of the 21st regiment, led by Tonio, storm in to rescue their “daughter.” The
noble guests are horrified to learn that Marie was a canteen girl, but they change their opinion when she describes her upbringing, telling them that she can never repay the debt she owes the soldiers. The marquise is so moved that she gives her daughter permission to marry Tonio. Everyone joins in a final “Salut à la France.”

POPera Facts

It’s likely you already know something about The Daughter of the Regiment – even if you’ve never seen it.

  • Luciano Pavarotti rose to prominence singing the famously difficult role of Tonio. At a 1972 performance at the Met, he hit the nine consecutive high C’s in the aria, “Ah, Mes Amis,” earning 17 curtain calls and the moniker “King of the High C’s.”
  • If you notice similarities between the Disney princess, Mulan, and Marie, you’re not alone.
  • The opera is Donizetti’s unabashed love letter to France. The country reciprocated the love. For years, Daughter of the Regiment was performed every year on Bastille Day.
  • When Beverly Sills played Marie – on stage and in a 1974 TV special – she referred to the comic role as “Lucille Ball with high notes.”
  • Opera buff and Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg made a cameo appearance as Duchess of Krakenthorp in Daughter of the Regiment with the Washington National Opera in 2016.

About the Composer

Gaetano Donizetti

(1797 – 1848)

Gaetano Donizetti was a leading composer of the bel canto (literally translated “beautiful singing”) style during the first half of the 19th century. Born in the Lombardy region of Italy, he didn’t
come from a musical family. Yet he was taken under the wing of composer Simon Mayr, who enrolled him, on a full scholarship, in his own school. Donizetti was just 19 when he wrote his first opera, the one-act comedy, Il Pigmalion.

He would go on to write nearly 70 operas, 51 of which premiered at the prestigious Teatro San Carlo in Naples. Before 1830, success came primarily from his comic operas. But that year, when Anna Bolena premiered, he earned an international reputation as a composer of serious opera.

He married in 1828, and he and his wife, Virginia, had three children, none of whom survived. Virginia died in 1837 of what historians argue could have been cholera, the measles or a syphilitic infection.

Donizetti followed the paths of his bel canto compatriots Rossini and Bellini by spending time in Paris, where he oversaw the staging of Lucia di Lammermoor in 1835. Based on the popular novel by Sir Walter Scott, Lucia became his most famous opera and a pinnacle of the bel canto tradition.

Solidifying his success, he was offered commissions by La Fenice in Venice, the Theatre-Italien in Paris and the Paris Opera. He was also an influence on Giuseppe Verdi.

In 1838 – after becoming frustrated with artistic censors in Italy – Donizetti moved to Paris, where he oversaw the translation of Lucia di Lammermoor and wrote the comic La fille du Regiment
(The Daughter of the Regiment), his first opera set to a French libretto. It was another popular success, beloved in part because of the famous aria “Ah! mes amis, quel jour de fête!” which requires the tenor to sing nine consecutive high C’s.

By 1843, Donizetti was exhibiting symptoms of syphilis and possibly bipolar disorder. He left Paris for Vienna and became increasingly aware of the limitations poor health imposed on him.

In 1845, Donizetti was diagnosed with syphilis and severe mental illness. Doctors suggested that he be confined to an institution for the mentally ill. Friends had him moved back to Italy, where he died in 1848.

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