Opéra comique in two acts
Libretto by Jules-Henri Vernoy de Saint-Georges and Jean-François Bayard
Sung in French with English dialogue
Opéra-Comique at the Salle de la Bourse, Paris, France, 1840
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.