La fille du régiment (The Daughter of the Regiment)
A group of Swiss, including the Marquise of Berkenfeld and Hortensius, her major-domo, nervously await the outcome of a skirmish with the French troops. They pray to the Virgin for protection, but the Marquise cannot refrain from commenting how the French troops are like pirates, not respectful of rank. Assured that the danger is past, the Marquise enters a nearby cottage. Sgt. Sulpice of the 21st Regiment enters, soon followed by the vivandière Marie.
Marie has been raised since infancy by the men of the 21st, who regard her as their joint “daughter.” Marie has learned the easy ways and surprising oaths common to French soldiers. The men of the Regiment come in withTonio, a Tyrolean peasant they have caught loitering about. Marie reveals that Tonio saved her life when she was about to fall off a precipice, and now she has fallen in love with him. The regimental “fathers” cannot conceive of giving their daughter in marriage to a man who is not a French soldier, let alone a man who is not a member of the 21st. Marie sings the regimental song, an irresistible performance that inspires Tonio to confess that he has followed Marie because he loves her. Marie weighs the evidence of Tonio’s affection and decides in his favor.
In a scene between the Marquise, who reappears from the cottage, and Sulpice, it comes out that, as she tells it, her sister had been married to Captain Robert of the 21st and they had a daughter, who had been mislaid in earliest infancy. Sulpice assures her that her niece is not at all dead, as the Marquise feared, but rather she has been dutifully raised by the Regiment. The Marquise insists that this is no proper environment for a child of the aristocracy and maintains that Marie must go home with her to receive the training her position warrants. Just then Tonio returns with a uniform of the 21st; he has enlisted to make himself eligible to marry Marie. Marie is upset by this and says she must leave with the Marquise and gives a moving farewell to Tonio and the Regiment. As Marie is led away by the Marquise, Tonio swears that he will find her again one day.
At the Château de Berkenfeld, Marie is being taught dancing, deportment, and singing. The Marquise has determined to make a great match for Marie and marry her to the son of the Duchess of Krakenthorp. Sulpice comes to visit Marie. When it is time for Marie’s singing lesson, Sulpice listens impatiently as she is instructed by her aunt in an inspired air by Garat and soon urges her to sing the old regimental song of the 21st instead, much to the dismay of the Marquise. Sulpice leaves to investigate a report that soldiers are appearing in the neighborhood. Marie, alone, thinks that rank and wealth are no substitutes for spontaneity of feeling. The sound of a drum announces the arrival of the men of the 21st to see their daughter. There is a joyful reunion of Tonio, now an officer, with Marie and Sulpice. The Marquise appears and is put out by the sight of Tonio, who tries to make her understand how his love for Marie has changed his life. The Marquise informs Tonio of Marie’s coming marriage and asks him to leave. When she is alone with Sulpice, the Marquise confesses her secret: Marie is her own daughter, not her niece, and the noble marriage will make Marie secure from scandal.
Hortensius announces the arrival of the guests and the Duchess of Krakenthorp. Everything is ready for the signing of the contract, but Tonio and the soldiers burst in and announce that Marie has been a vivandièr and the daughter of the Regiment. The aristocratic guests are horrified by these revelations. The Marquise, remembering her own unhappy past and moved by the sight of Marie’s evident love for Tonio, gives her consent to the match. The Duchess retreats in shock, but everyone else celebrates the triumph of true love.
Courtesy of San Francisco Opera