La fille du régiment (The Daughter of the Regiment) is an opéra comique in two acts by Gaetano Donizetti, set to a French libretto by Jules-Henri Vernoy de Saint-Georges and Jean-François Bayard. It was first performed on 11 February 1840 by the Paris Opéra-Comique at the Salle de la Bourse.
The opera was written by Donizetti while he was living in Paris between 1838 and 1840 preparing a revised version of his then-unperformed Italian opera, Poliuto as Les martyrs for the Paris Opéra. Since Martyrs was delayed, the composer had time to write the music for La fille, his first opera set to a French text, as well as to stage the French version of Lucia di Lammermoor as Lucie de Lammermoor
As La fille, it quickly became a popular success, partly because of the famous aria "Ah! mes amis, quel jour de fête!", which requires of the tenor no fewer than nine high Cs. La figlia del reggimento, a slightly different Italian-language version (in translation by Calisto Bassi), was adapted to the tastes of the Italian public.
Time: The Napoleonic Wars, early 19th century
Place: The Swiss Tyrol
Fighting is raging in the Tyrols and the Marquise of Berkenfield, who is traveling in the area, is alarmed to the point of needing smelling salts to be administered by her faithful steward, Hortensius. While a chorus of villagers express their fear, the Marquise does the same: Pour une femme de mon nom / "For a lady of my family, what a time, alas, is war-time". As the French can be seen to be moving away, all express their relief. Suddenly, and provoking the fear of the remaining women who scatter, Sergeant Sulpice of the Twenty-First Regiment of the French army [in the Italian version it is the Eleventh] arrives and assures everyone that the regiment will restore order.
Marie, the vivandière (canteen girl) of the Regiment, enters, and Sulpice is happy to see her: (Duet: Sulpice and Marie: Mais, qui vient? Tiens, Marie, notre fil / "But who is this? Well, well, if it isn't our daughter Marie".) Then, as he questions her about a young man she has been seen with, she identifies him as Tonio, a Tyrolean [in the Italian version: Swiss]. At that moment, Tonio is brought in as a prisoner, because he has been seen prowling around the camp. Marie saves him from the soldiers, who demand that he must die, by explaining that he had saved her life when she nearly fell while mountain-climbing. All toast Tonio, who pledges allegiance to France, and Marie is encouraged to sing the regimental song: (Aria: Chacun le sait, chacun le dit / "Everyone knows it, everyone says it".) Sulpice leads the soldiers off, taking Tonio with them, but he runs back to join her. She quickly tells him that he must gain the approval of her "fathers": the soldiers of the Regiment, who found her on the battlefield as an abandoned baby, and adopted her. Skeptical as to why Tonio has returned, he proclaims his love for her (Aria, then love duet with Marie: Depuis l'instant ou, dans mes bras / "Ever since that moment when you fell and / I caught you, all trembling in my arms...") and then the couple express their love for each other.
At that point, Sulpice returns, surprising the young couple who leave. The Marquise arrives with Hortensius, initially afraid of the soldier, but is calmed by him. The Marquise explains that they are trying to return to her castle and asks for an escort. When hearing the name Birkenfeld, Sulpice immediately recognizes it from a letter found with Marie as an infant. It is discovered that the Marquise's long-lost niece is actually Marie, who returns and is surprised to be introduced to her aunt. The Marquise commands that Marie accompany her and that she will be taught to be a proper lady. Marie bids farewell to her beloved regiment just as Tonio enters proclaiming that he has enlisted in their ranks: (Aria: Ah! mes amis, quel jour de fête / "Ah, my friends, what an exciting day".) In proclaiming his love for Marie, the soldiers are horrified, but agree to his pleading for her hand. However, they tell him that she is about to leave with her aunt: (Marie, aria: Il faut partir / "I must leave you!"). In a choral finale in which all join, she leaves with the Marquise and Tonio is enraged.
Marie has been living in the Marquise's castle for several months. In a conversation with Sulpice, the Marquise describes how she has sought to modify most of her military manners and make her into a lady of fashion, suitable for her to be married to her nephew, the Duke of Crakentorp. Although reluctant, Marie has agreed and Sulpice is asked to encourage her. Marie enters and is asked to play the piano, but appears to prefer more martial music when encouraged by Sulpice and sings the regimental song. The Marquise sits down at the piano and attempts to work through the piece with Marie who becomes more and more distracted and, along with Sulpice, takes up the regimental song.
Marie is left alone: (Aria: Par le rang et par l'opulence / "They have tried in vain to dazzle me"). As she is almost reconciled to her fate, she hears martial music, and is joyously happy: (Cabaletta: Oh! transport! oh! douce ivresse / "Oh bliss! oh ectasy!") and the Regiment arrives. With it is Tonio, now an officer. The soldiers express their joy at seeing Marie, and Marie, Tonio and Sulpice are joyfully reunited, although he tries to tell her something she does not know but is ignored: (Trio, Marie, Sulpice, Tonio: Tous les trois réunis / "We three are reunited"). The Marquise enters, horrified to see soldiers. Tonio asks for Marie's hand, explaining that he risked his life for her: (Aria, Tonio: Pour me rapprocher de Marie, je me enrôlai, pauvre soldat / "In order to woo Marie, I enlisted in the ranks") but she dismisses him scornfully. Tonio and Marie leave separately, and the Marquise confesses the truth to Sulpice: Marie is her own illegitimate daughter. In the circumstances, Sulpice promises that Marie will agree to her mother's wishes.
The Duchess and her nephew arrive and Marie enters with Sulpice, who has given her the news that the Marquise is her mother. Marie embraces her and decides she must obey. But at the last minute the soldiers of the Regiment storm in (Chorus: soldiers, then Tonio: Au secours de notre fille / "Our daughter needs our help") and it is revealed that Marie was a canteen girl. Indignantly, the Duchess leaves, but the other guests are impressed when Marie sings of her debt to the soldiers: (Aria, Marie: Quand le destin, au milieu de la guerre / "When fate , in the confusion of war, threw me, a baby, into their arms"). The Marquise is deeply moved, admits she is Marie's mother, and gives her consent to Marie and Tonio, amid universal rejoicing. (Final chorus: Salut a la France! / "Hurrah for France! For Happy times!"