Maria: Graziella Sciutti
Tonio: Mario Spina
Sulpizio: Geraint Evans
The Countess of Berkenfeld: Patricia Kern
Ortensio: Gwyn Griffiths
|Costume Design||Joseph Carl
|Wexford Chorus Coach||Mrs C Hore
|, Assistant Chorus Coach||Nora O'Leary
Time: The Napoleonic Wars, early 19th century
Place: The Swiss Tyroll
War is raging in the Tyrols and the Marquise of Berkenfield, traveling in the area, is alarmed to the point of needing smelling salts to be administered by her faithful steward, Hortensius. While a chorus of villagers express their fear, the Marquise does the same: Pour une femme de mon nom / "For a lady of my family, what a time, alas, is wartime". As the French are seen moving away, all express relief. Suddenly, provoking the fear of the remaining women, who scatter, Sergeant Sulpizio of the Twenty-First Regiment of the French army (in the Italian version it is the Eleventh) arrives and assures everyone that the regiment will restore order.
Maria, the vivandière (canteen girl) of the Regiment enters, and Sulpiziois happy to see her (duet: Sulpizio and Maria: Mais, qui vient? Tiens, Marie, notre fille / "But who is this? Well, well, if it isn't our daughter Marie"). After he questions her about a young man she has been seen with, she identifies him as Tonio, a Tyrolean (in the Italian version: Swiss). At that moment, Tonio is brought in as a prisoner because he has been seen prowling around the camp. Maria saves him from the soldiers, who demand that he die, by explaining that he saved her life when she nearly fell while mountain-climbing. All toast Tonio, who pledges allegiance to France, and Maria is encouraged to sing the regimental song (aria: Chacun le sait, chacun le dit ... Le beau vingt-et-unième! / "Everyone knows it, everyone says it ... The beautiful 21st"). Sulpizioleads the soldiers off, taking Tonio with them, but he runs back to join her. She quickly tells him that he must gain the approval of her "fathers": the soldiers of the Regiment, who found her on the battlefield as an abandoned baby and adopted her. He proclaims his love for her (aria, then love duet with Maria: Depuis l'instant où, dans mes bras / "Ever since that moment when you fell and / I caught you, all trembling in my arms"), and the couple express their love for each other.
At that point, Sulpizio returns, surprising the young couple, who leave. The Marquise arrives with Hortensius. Initially afraid of the soldier, she is calmed by him. The Marquise explains that they are trying to return to her castle and asks for an escort. Hearing the name Berkenfield, Sulpizio immediately recognizes it from a letter found with Maria as an infant. It is discovered that Maria is actually the Marquise's long-lost niece. Marie returns and is surprised to be introduced to her aunt. The Marquise commands that Maria accompany her and learn to be a proper lady. Marie bids farewell to her beloved regiment just as Tonio enters announcing that he has enlisted in their ranks (aria: Ah! mes amis, quel jour de fête / "Ah, my friends, what an exciting day"). When he proclaims his love for Marie, the soldiers are horrified, but agree to his pleading for her hand. However, they tell him that she is about to leave with her aunt (Marie, aria: Il faut partir / "I must leave you!"). In a choral finale, she leaves with the Marquise and Tonio is enraged.
Maria has been living in the Marquise's castle for several months. In a conversation with Sulpizio, the Marquise describes how she has sought to modify Maria's military manners and make her a lady of fashion, suitable to be married to her nephew, the Duke of Crakenthorp. Although reluctant, Maria has agreed and Sulpice is asked to encourage her. Maria enters and is asked to play the piano, but appears to prefer more martial music when encouraged by Sulpizioand sings the regimental song. The Marquise sits down at the piano and attempts to work through the piece with Maria, who becomes more and more distracted and, along with Sulpice, takes up the regimental song.
Mariais left alone (aria: Par le rang et par l'opulence / "They have tried in vain to dazzle me"). As she is almost reconciled to her fate, she hears martial music and is joyously happy (cabaletta: Oh! transport! oh! douce ivresse / "Oh bliss! oh ectasy!"), and the regiment arrives. With it is Tonio, now an officer. The soldiers express their joy at seeing Maria, and Maria, Tonio and Sulpizio are joyfully reunited (trio, Maria, Sulpizio, Tonio: Tous les trois réunis / "We three are reunited"). Tonio says he has just learned a secret, via his uncle the burgermeister, that he cannot reveal.
The Marquise enters, horrified to see soldiers. Tonio asks for Maria's hand, explaining that he risked his life for her (aria, Tonio: Pour me rapprocher de Maria, je m'enrôlai, pauvre soldat / "In order to woo Maria, I enlisted in the ranks"), but she dismisses him scornfully. Tonio reveals that he knows that the Marquise never had a niece. She orders him to leave and Maria to return to her chambers; after they leave, the Marquise confesses the truth to Sulpizio: Maria is her own illegitimate daughter. Under the circumstances, Sulpice promises that Maria will agree to her mother's wishes.
The Duchess of Crakenthorp, her son the groom-to-be, and the wedding entourage arrive at the Marquise's castle. Maria enters with Sulpizio, who has told her that the Marquise is her mother. Maria embraces her and decides she must obey. But at the last minute the soldiers of the Regiment storm in (chorus: soldiers, then Tonio: Au secours de notre fille / "Our daughter needs our help") and reveal that Maria was a canteen girl. The wedding guests are offended by that, but then impressed when Marie sings of her debt to the soldiers (aria, Marie: Quand le destin, au milieu de la guerre / "When fate, in the confusion of war, threw me, a baby, into their arms"). The Marquise is deeply moved, admits she is Maria's mother, and gives her consent to Maria and Tonio's marriage, amid universal rejoicing (final chorus: Salut à la France! / "Hurrah for France! For happy times!")