Donizetti’s “La Fille du Régiment” isn’t anywhere near his greatest opera. And yet it remains a modern favorite.
Part of the major charm comes from the melodic invention that he employs. He threw caution to the winds for much of this French work and just had a ton of fun. Other reasons for its popularity could be more specific in nature, namely the two major arias that have become touchstones outside the work.
The opera premiered on Feb. 11, 1840, and has become a fixture of the standard repertoire.
Short Plot Summary
The Twenty-First Regiment arrives in the Tyrols. Sergeant Suplice questions Marie, the canteen girl, about a young man she has been talking with. She identifies the young man as Tonio and he is brought in as a prisoner for stalking the camp. The soldiers in the regiment demand his death but Marie defends him and tells them that Tonio had saved her life. Tonio pledges allegiance to France. He proclaims his love to Marie but she tells him that he must seek approval from her “fathers” of the regiment as they found her as a child on the battlefield.
The Marquise of Berkenfield arrives looking for help and Suplice remembers the name in a letter that he found with Marie when she was an infant. They realize that Marie is a long-lost niece of the Marquise and she demands that the girl come with her to be properly taught manners. Marie bids farewell. Tonio begs the regiment for Marie’s hand and even proposes to join their ranks. They agree.
Marie is bored with her life in the Marquise’s castle. Suplice is asked to encourage Marie to accept marriage to the Duke of Crackentorp. He agrees to try but it is clear that Marie is not having any of this. She sings martial music and rejoined with the regiment. Tonio asks the Marquise for Marie’s hand but is rejected. Marie learns that the Marquise is her mother and agrees to do as she pleases but eventually, Marie is united with Tonio when the Duchess of Crackentorp rejects Marie for being a canteen girl.
Famous Musical Numbers
Tonio’s “A mes amis” is famous for its nine high Cs that make it a rather difficult role for most tenors. Meanwhile, Marie’s “Salut a la France” is a hit for its patriotic fervor and catchy melody.
Watch and Listen
Check out this production from Tokyo from 2006 which stars Juan Diego Flórez, one of the top proponents of the opera in recent history.