La Fille du régiment

Gaetano Donizetti

This well-loved comic opera follows the story of an orphan girl, Marie, abandoned on a battlefield as a baby and ‘adopted’ by a regiment of soldiers. 

La Fille du régiment

Opéra comique in two acts
Libretto by Jules-Henri Vernoy de Saint-Georges and Jean-François Bayard
Sung in French with English surtitles 

First performance:
Opéra-Comique at the Salle de la Bourse, Paris, France, 1840 


The Plot        

Brought up as the ‘daughter’ of a French Regiment during the conflict between France and Austria, Marie has been told by her ‘father’ Sulpice that she must marry a soldier, but Marie has fallen for an Austrian, Tonio. 

Unexpectedly caught up in the war, the Marquise de Berkenfield and her attendant Hortensius meet the regiment. Sulpice makes a connection between the Marquise and papers discovered with the foundling Marie. The Marquise says that she is Marie’s aunt and wants to take Marie away from the regiment and from Tonio, who has joined the army in order to marry her.

The Marquise, however, has plans for Marie to marry Duke Scipio of Crakentorp. Marie is homesick for the regiment and does not want to be a lady. The regiment pays Marie a surprise visit, and Tonio asks the Marquise for permission to marry Marie. When refused, Tonio reveals that he knows that Marie is actually the Marquise’s illegitimate daughter. The Marquise and the Duke's mother try to force Marie to sign the marriage contract, and when Marie learns the truth about her mother, she agrees to sign but is stopped at the last minute by the regiment. The Marquise relents and allows Marie and Tonio to marry, much to everyone’s delight.

Background / The Opera

As Donizetti’s biographer William Ashbrook has written, ‘No other score by a non-Frenchman for the Opéra-Comique has come even close to matching the record of La Fille du régiment on that stage.’ But then it would appear that when writing for non-Italian theatres, whether in Paris or Vienna, Donizetti always seemed to take that extra little bit of care — see also La Favorite, Linda di Chamounix, Don Pasquale and Dom Sébastien. It may not be possible to claim La Fille du régiment as a more perfect masterpiece than L’elisir d’amore, but it is certainly one of Donizetti’s most beautifully composed operas, full of toe-tapping (and ear-worming) melodies. When it comes to Gallic élan, it’s clear that Offenbach must have known the nimble trio, ‘Tous les trois rénuis’.

The reunited trio here are Marie (the orphan girl brought up by soldiers as ‘daughter of the regiment’), Sulpice (the sergeant in charge of her ‘fathers’) and Tonio (her young Tyrolean sweetheart, who enlists in the French army in order to claim Marie as his bride). Donizetti gave the lovers some of his most famous music, and it is little wonder that the opera’s modern-day revival at Covent Garden in 1966 entered operatic lore for generating excitement of the kind one seldom sees in opera houses this side of the Alps. Luciano Pavarotti pinged off the nine top Cs of Tonio’s ‘Pour mon âme’, and Joan Sutherland no less famously sang Marie’s brilliant cabaletta ‘Salut à la France’.

Premiered in Paris in February 1840, La Fille du régiment notched up 1,000 performances by 1914 at the Opéra-Comique alone, and an Italian opera buffa version prepared by Donizetti himself saw the work gain wide currency. Despite a perhaps inevitable drop-off in performances in the mid-20th century, La Fille du régiment has regained its popularity. But for all its entertainment value, it also had a long-lasting influence, and it’s clear that the intrepid Marie informed Verdi’s portrayal of Preziosilla, the cantinière in La forza del destino. 

With the exception of the Donizetti Opera Festival (Bergamo, Italy), Wexford Festival Opera has produced more works by Gaetano Donizetti than any other opera festival in the world. In particular, Wexford Festival Opera is credited for the rediscovery of L’elisir d’amore in 1952, which has subsequently found its way into the operatic canon. 

Donizetti operas at Wexford Festival Opera include:  

  • 1952 L’elisir d’amore 
  • 1953 Don Pasquale 
  • 1957 La figlia del reggimento 
  • 1958 Anna Bolena 
  • 1963 Don Pasquale 
  • 1964 Lucia di Lammermoor 
  • 1966 Lucrezia Borgia 
  • 1970 Giovedi grasso 
  • 1973 L’ajo nell’imbarazzo 
  • 1983 Linda di Chamounix 
  • 1991 L’Assedio di Calais 
  • 1996 Parisina 
  • 2005 Maria di Rohan 
  • 2006 Don Gregorio 
  • 2009 Maria Padilla 
  • 2011 Gianni di Parigi 
  • 2016 Maria de Rudenz 
  • 2023 Zoraida di Granata 
  • 2023 La Fille du régiment