Of Donizetti’s major comedies, “La Fille du Régiment” is a unique work.
Debuting on Feb. 11, 1840, this is one of the few French-language operas by Donizetti in the standard repertory. It was also his first opera set to French text. It has remained a fixture of the standard repertory over the years. There is an Italian-language version, but it has never quite managed to stick around and rarely gets performed in opera houses.
Short Plot Synopsis
The Marquise de Berkenfield is alarmed by the fighting going on in Tyrols. Sergeant Suplice arrives and promises the fearful villagers that his regiment will restore order. Marie, the canteen girl in the regiment, arrives and talks to Suplice about a young boy Tonio that she is in love with. Tonio is brought in as a prisoner for prowling around the camp. Marie saves him and she tells them that he had saved her life. Later, Tonio declares his love for Marie, but she tells him that she must get the approval of her “fathers,” all the men in the regiment. Marie expresses her love for Tonio.
The Marquise arrives, asking about a way to find her castle. She mentions her name and Suplice immediately recalls a letter that he found inside of Marie when she was found on a battlefield. The Marquise realizes that Marie is her long-lost niece and takes her away.
Tonio proclaims that he will join the ranks of the soldiers and tells the regiment of his love for Marie.
After a few months living in the castle, the Marquise tells Suplice that Marie is not learning the proper etiquette of a lady. She asks that he aid her as Marie is set to be married to the Duke of Crakentorp.
Alone, Marie ponders her dissatisfaction with her new life. The regiment, led by Tonio, arrives and asks for her hand in marriage. The Marquise refuses and later tells Suplice that she is in fact the mother of Marie.
The Duchess and her nephew arrive, and Marie is told about her mother. She agrees to submit to her mother’s wishes, but the soldiers rush in and reveal her previous career as a canteen girl. The Duchess leaves and the Marquise ultimately consents to Marie and Tonio’s union.
The work has a number of memorable melodies but there are two arias that are truly iconic. The first of these is Tonio’s “Ah! mes amis” which climaxes in a double aria featuring a whopping nine high C’s. But the title protagonist also has her big aria, “Salut a la France.”
Watch and Listen
Here is the famed recording of the opera featuring Joan Sutherland and Luciano Pavarotti; both are arguably the most famous interpreters of the opera.