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Music with Ease > 19th Century Italian Opera > La Fille du Régiment (Donizetti) - Synopsis

La Fille du Régiment -
(English title: The Daughter of the Regiment)
(Italian title: La Figlia del Reggimento)
An Opera by Gaetano Donizetti

Opera in two acts, by Donizetti; words by Bayard and Jules H. Vernoy (Marquis St. Georges). Produced, Opéra Comique, Paris, as "La Fille du Régiment," February 11, 1840, Milan, October 30, 1840; London, in English, at the Surrey Theatre, December 21, 1847; the same season in Italian, with Jenny Lind. First American performance, New Orleans, March 7, 1843. Marie was a favorite role with Jenny Lind, Sontag, Lucca, and Patti, all of whom appeared in it in New York; also Sembrich, with Charles Gilibert as Sulpice, Metropolitan Opera House, 1902-03; and Hempel, with Scotti as Sulpice, same house, December 17, 1917. Tetrazzimi, McCormack, and Gilibert, Manhattan Opera House, 1909. An opera with a slight hold on the repertoire, but liable to occasional revival for coloratura sopranos.


MARIE, the "Daughter of the Regiment," but really the daughter of the Marquise de Birkenfeld…………………………… Soprano
SULPICE, Sergeant of French Grenadiers……………………… Bass
TONIO, a Tyrolese peasant in love with Marie; afterwards an officer of Grenadiers……………………………………. Tenor
MARQUISE DE BIRKENFELD………………………………. Soprano
HORTENSIO, steward to the Marquise……………………….. Bass
CORPORAL………………………………………………….. Bass
Soldiers, peasants, friends of the Marquise, etc.

Time: 1815.
Place: Mountains of the Swiss Tyrol.

Act I. A passage in the Tyrolese mountains. On the right is a cottage, on the left the first houses of a village. Heights in the background. Tyrolese peasants are grouped on rising ground, as if on the lookout. Their wives and daughters kneel before a shrine to the Virgin. The Marquise de Birkenfeld is seated on a rustic bench. Beside her stands Hortensio, her steward. They have been caught in the eddy of the war. An engagement is in progress not far away. The Tyrolese chorus sings valiantly, the women pray; the French are victorious. And why not? Is not the unbeaten Twenty-first Regiment of Grenadiers among them?

One of them is coming now, Sergeant Sulpice, and old grumbler. After him comes a pretty girl in uniform, a vivandière -- Marie, the daughter of the regiment, found on the field of battle when she was a mere child, and brought up by a whole regiment of fathers, the spoiled darling of the grenadiers. She sings "Apparvi alla luce, sul campo guerrier"

(I first saw the light in the camp of my brave grenadirs), which ends in a brilliant cadenza.

This indicates why the revival of this opera attends the appearance upon the horizon of a colorature star. It is typical of the requirements of the character.

The Sergeant puts her through a drill. Then they have a "Rataplan" duet, which may be called a repetition of Marie’s solo with an accompaniment of rataplans. The drum is the music that is sweetest to her; and, indeed, Marie’s manipulation of the drumsticks is a feature of the role.

But for a few days Marie has not been as cheerful as formerly. She has been seen with a young man. Sulpice asks her about him. She tells the Sergeant that this young man saved her life by preventing her from falling over a precipice. That, however, establishes no claim upon her. The regiment has decreed that only a grenadier shall have her for wife.

There is a commotion. Some soldiers drag in Tonio, whom they charge as a spy. They have discovered him sneaking about the camp. His would have been short shrift had not Marie pleaded for him, for he is none other than her rescuer. As he wants to remain near Marie, he decides to become a soldier. The grenadiers celebrate his decision by drinking to his health and calling upon Marie to sing the "Song of the Regiment," at dapper tune, which is about the best-known number of the score: "Ciascun lo dice, ciascum lo sa! E il Reggimento, ch’equal non ha."

(All men confess it,
Go where we will!
Our gallant regiment
Is welcome still.)

There is then a love scene for Marie and Tonio, followed by a duet for them, "A voti cosi ardente" (No longer can I doubt it).

Afterwards the grenadiers sign a "Rataplan" chorus.

But, alas, the Sergeant has been informed that the Marquise de Birkenfeld desires safe conduct. Birkenfeld! That is the very name to which were addressed certain papers found on Marie when she was discovered as a baby on the battlefield. The Marquise examines the papers, declares that Marie is her niece and henceforth must live with her in the castle. Poor Tonio has become a grenadier in vain. The regiment cannot help him. It can only lament with him that their daughter is lost to them. She herself is none too happy. She sings a sad farewell, "Convien partir! O miei compagni d’arme" (Farewell, a long farewell, my dear companions).

Act II. In the castle of the Marquise. Marie is learning to dance the minuet and to sing classical airs. But in the midst of her singing she and Sulpice, whom the Marquise also has brought to the castle, break out into the "Song of the Regiment" and stirring "rataplans." Their liveliness, however, is only temporary, for poor Marie is to wed, at her aunt’s command, a scion of the ducal house of Krakenthorp. The march of the grenadier is heard. They come in, led by Tonio, who has been made a captain for valour. Sulpice can now see no reason why Marie should not marry him instead of the nobleman selected by her aunt. And, indeed, Marie and Tonio decide to elope. But the Marquise confesses to the Sergeant, in order to win his aid in influencing Marie, that the girl really is her daughter, born out of wedlock. Sulpice informs Marie, who now feels that she cannot go against her mother’s wishes.

In the end, however, it is Marie herself who saves the situation. The guests have assembled for the signing of the wedding contract, when Marie, before them all, sings fondly of her childhood with the regiment, and of her life as a vivandière. "Quando il destino in mezzo a stragiera" (When I was left, by all abandoned).

The society people are scandalized. But the marquise is so touched that she leads Tonio to Marie and places the girl’s hand in that of her lover. The opera ends with an ensemble, "Salute to France!"

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