Donizetti’s LA FILLE DU RÉGIMENT

Event: Donizetti’s LA FILLE DU RÉGIMENT
Date: March 2, 2019, 12:55 pm
Run Time: 2 hours 55 minutes with one intermission
Ticket Info: Tickets available at the door and online

Tickets for LA FILLE DU RÉGIMENTper adult • $22.00 online

Tickets for LA FILLE DU RÉGIMENTper student • $11.00 online

Synopsis

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 (Pour une femme de mon nom). 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 (Chacun le sait). 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 (Ah, mes amis), but she has to leave both her regiment and the man she loves (Il faut partir).

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 (Trio: Le jour naissait dans la bocage). Left alone, Marie thinks about the meaninglessness of money and position (Par le rang et l’opulence). 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 (Pour me rapprocher de Marie), 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.

Notes by Zeke Hecker

Gaetano Donizetti, who died at age 50, wrote 75 operas. (Brief pause to wrap your head around that.) Most are tragedies or melodramas, and most are set to Italian libretti, as you would expect. But number 60, La fille du régiment, is a comedy set to a French text. Only a handful of the tragedies, notably Lucia di Lammermoor, are regularly revived. But three comedies have become perennial favorites (the other two are L’elisir d’amore and Don Pasquale). As for the French libretto, in 1839-40 Donizetti was in Paris to prepare French-language versions of a couple of his other operas. Various delays left him with time on his hands, during which he composed La fille du régiment for the Opéra-Comique, the city’s “second” opera company. Initially it was neither a critical nor a popular success, but over the course of its run it built a following. It became a fixture in the repertory of the Opéra-Comique; by 1914 it had achieved a thousand performances there. (Donizetti rewrote the opera to an Italian text for performances in his native land, but that version is generally considered inferior to the French original.)

Donizetti became a composer over his father’s objections. To avoid family conflicts, as a young man he enlisted in the Austrian army (much of northern Italy was under Austrian occupation), so the opera’s military milieu has the ring of authenticity despite the endearingly silly story.

Donizetti was one-third of the “bel canto” triumvirate who dominated Italian opera in the early 19th century (along with Rossini and Bellini). “Beautiful singing” meant florid technique, shapely lines, and high notes. The aria Ah! mes amis famously, or infamously, requires the tenor to reach high C nine times. (To be fair, in Donizetti’s day he would not have been expected to sing those notes in full voice, but in “head voice” or even falsetto.) The title role makes comparable vocal demands. La fille du régiment blazes from both barrels: spectacular singing and zany comedy.