La fille du régiment

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Juliette Borghèse as Marie and
Henry Deshaynes as Sulpice (1840)

La fille du régiment (The Daughter of the Regiment) is an opéra comique in two acts by Gaetano Donizetti, set to a French libretto by Jules-Henri Vernoy de Saint-Georges and Jean-François Bayard. It was first performed on 11 February 1840 by the Paris Opéra-Comique at the Salle de la Bourse.

The opera was written by Donizetti while he was living in Paris between 1838 and 1840 preparing a revised version of his then-unperformed Italian opera, Poliuto as Les martyrs for the Paris Opéra. Since Martyrs was delayed, the composer had time to write the music for La fille, his first opera set to a French text, as well as to stage the French version of Lucia di Lammermoor as Lucie de Lammermoor

As La fille, it quickly became a popular success, partly because of the famous aria "Ah! mes amis, quel jour de fête!", which requires of the tenor no fewer than nine high Cs. La figlia del reggimento, a slightly different Italian-language version (in translation by Calisto Bassi), was adapted to the tastes of the Italian public.

Performance history[edit]

The Opéra-Comique premiere[edit]

Mécène Marié de l'Isle sang Tonio
Marie-Julie Halligner sang The Marquise of Birkenfeld

The opening night was "a barely averted disaster."[1] Apparently the lead tenor was frequently off pitch.[2] The noted French tenor Gilbert Duprez, who was present, later observed in his Souvenirs d'un chanteur: "Donizetti often swore to me how his self-esteem as a composer had suffered in Paris. He was never treated there according to his merits. I myself saw the unsuccess, almost the collapse, of La fille du régiment."[3][4]

It received a highly negative review from the French critic and composer Hector Berlioz (Journal des débats, 16 February 1840), who claimed it could not be taken seriously by either the public or its composer, although Berlioz did concede that some of the music, "the little waltz that serves as the entr'acte and the trio dialogué ... lack neither vivacity nor freshness."[4] The source of Berlioz's hostility is revealed later in his review:

What, two major scores for the Opéra, Les martyrs and Le duc d'Albe, two others at the Théâtre de la Renaissance, Lucie de Lammermoor and L'ange de Nisida, two at the Opéra-Comique, La fille du régiment and another whose title is still unknown, and yet another for the Théâtre-Italien, will have been written or transcribed in one year by the same composer! M[onsieur] Donizetti seems to treat us like a conquered country; it is a veritable invasion. One can no longer speak of the opera houses of Paris, but only of the opera houses of M[onsieur] Donizetti.[4]

The critic and poet Théophile Gautier, who was not a rival composer, had a somewhat different point of view: "M[onsieur] Donizetti is capable of paying with music that is beautiful and worthy for the cordial hospitality which France offers him in all her theatres, subsidized or not."[5]

Despite its bumpy start, the opera soon became hugely popular at the Opéra-Comique. During its first 80 years, it reached its 500th performance at the theatre in 1871 and its 1,000th in 1908.[6]

Outside France[edit]

Gaetano Donizetti (portrait by Giuseppe Rillosi)

The opera was first performed in Italy at La Scala, Milan, on 3 October 1840, in Italian with recitatives by Donizetti replacing the spoken dialogue.[7] It was thought "worthless" and received only six performances. It was not until 1928 when Toti Dal Monte sang Marie that the opera began to be appreciated in Italy.[8]

La fille received its first performance in America on 7 March 1843 at the Théâtre d'Orléans in New Orleans.[9] The New Orleans company premiered the work in New York City on 19 July 1843 with Julie Calvé as Marie.[10] The Spirit of the Times (22 July) counted it a great success, and, although the score was "thin" and not up to the level of Anna Bolena or L'elisir d'amore, some of Donizetti's "gems" were to be found in it.[11] The Herald (21 July) was highly enthusiastic, especially in its praise of Calvé: "Applause is an inadequate term, ... vehement cheering rewarded this talented prima donna."[12] Subsequently the opera was performed frequently in New York, the role of Marie being a favorite with Jenny Lind, Henriette Sontag, Pauline Lucca, Anna Thillon and Adelina Patti.[13]

First given in England in Italian, it appeared on 27 May 1847 at Her Majesty's Theatre in London (with Jenny Lind and Luigi Lablache). Later—on 21 December 1847 in English—it was presented at the Surrey Theatre in London.[14]

W. S. Gilbert wrote a burlesque adaptation of the opera, La Vivandière, in 1867.

20th century and beyond[edit]

1910 poster for the opera by Emile Finot

The Metropolitan Opera gave the first performances with Marcella Sembrich, and Charles Gilibert (Sulpice) during the 1902/03 season. It was then followed by performances at the Manhattan Opera House in 1909 with Luisa Tetrazzini, John McCormack, and Charles Gilibert, and again with Frieda Hempel and Antonio Scotti in the same roles at the Met on 17 December 1917.[15]

It was revived at the Royal Opera, London in 1966 for Joan Sutherland. On 13 February 1970, in concert at Carnegie Hall, Beverly Sills sang the first performance in New York since Lily Pons performed it at the Metropolitan Opera House in 1943.[16][17]

This opera is famous for the aria "Ah! mes amis, quel jour de fête!" (sometimes referred to as "Pour mon âme"), which has been called the "Mount Everest" for tenors. It features nine high Cs and comes comparatively early in the opera, giving the singer less time to warm up his voice. Luciano Pavarotti's stardom is reckoned from a performance alongside Joan Sutherland at the Met, when he "leapt over the 'Becher's Brook' of the string of high Cs with an aplomb that left everyone gasping."[18]

More recently, Juan Diego Flórez performed "Ah! mes amis" at La Scala, and then, on popular demand, repeated it, "breaking a 74-year embargo on encores at the legendary Milanese opera house." He repeated this feat on 21 April 2008, the opening night of the 2007 London production at the Met, with Natalie Dessay as Marie.[19] This Met production was broadcast in high definition video to movie theaters worldwide on 26 April 2008.

Today, it is frequently performed to the point that it has become part of the standard repertoire, with the database, Operabase, reporting that since 1 January 2012 and announced for the near future, 150 performances of 29 productions in 22 cities have occurred or will be staged.[20]


Final curtain call of the Metropolitan Opera's 24 December 2011 performance with (l to r) Lawrence Brownlee (Tonio), Nino Machaidze (Marie), and Ann Murray (Marquise)
Role Voice type Premiere cast, 11 February 1840
(Conductor: Gaetano Donizetti)
Marie, a vivandière coloratura soprano Juliette Borghèse
Tonio, a young Tyrolean tenor Mécène Marié de l'Isle
Sergeant Sulpice bass Henry Deshaynes ("Henri")
The Marquise of Birkenfeld contralto Marie-Julie Halligner ("Boulanger")
Hortensius, a butler bass D. Delaunay-Ricquier
A corporal bass Georges-Marie-Vincent Palianti
A peasant tenor Henry Blanchard
The Duchess of Krakenthorp spoken role Marguerite Blanchard
A notary spoken role Léon
French soldiers, Tyrolean people, domestic servants of the Duchess


Time: The Napoleonic Wars, early 19th century
Place: The Swiss Tyrol[21]

Act 1[edit]

performed by l'Atelier Vocal des Herbiers and piano accompaniment

Problems playing this file? See media help.

Fighting is raging in the Tyrols and the Marquise of Birkenfeld, who is 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 war-time". As the French can be seen to be moving away, all express their relief. Suddenly, and provoking the fear of the remaining women who scatter, Sergeant Sulpice 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.

Marie, the vivandière (canteen girl) of the Regiment, enters, and Sulpice is happy to see her: (Duet: Sulpice and Marie: Mais, qui vient? Tiens, Marie, notre fil / "But who is this? Well, well, if it isn't our daughter Marie".) Then, as 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. Marie saves him from the soldiers, who demand that he must die, by explaining that he had saved her life when she nearly fell while mountain-climbing. All toast Tonio, who pledges allegiance to France, and Marie is encouraged to sing the regimental song: (Aria: Chacun le sait, chacun le dit / "Everyone knows it, everyone says it".) Sulpice leads 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. Skeptical as to why Tonio has returned, he proclaims his love for her (Aria, then love duet with Marie: Depuis l'instant ou, dans mes bras / "Ever since that moment when you fell and / I caught you, all trembling in my arms...") and then the couple express their love for each other.

At that point, Sulpice returns, surprising the young couple who leave. The Marquise arrives with Hortensius, initially afraid of the soldier, but is calmed by him. The Marquise explains that they are trying to return to her castle and asks for an escort. When hearing the name Birkenfeld, Sulpice immediately recognizes it from a letter found with Marie as an infant. It is discovered that the Marquise's long-lost niece is actually Marie, who returns and is surprised to be introduced to her aunt. The Marquise commands that Marie accompany her and that she will be taught to be a proper lady. Marie bids farewell to her beloved regiment just as Tonio enters proclaiming that he has enlisted in their ranks: (Aria: Ah! mes amis, quel jour de fête / "Ah, my friends, what an exciting day".) In proclaiming 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 in which all join, she leaves with the Marquise and Tonio is enraged.

Act 2[edit]

Marie has been living in the Marquise's castle for several months. In a conversation with Sulpice, the Marquise describes how she has sought to modify most of her military manners and make her into a lady of fashion, suitable for her to be married to her nephew, the Duke of Krakenthorp. Although reluctant, Marie has agreed and Sulpice is asked to encourage her. Marie enters and is asked to play the piano, but appears to prefer more martial music when encouraged by Sulpice and sings the regimental song. The Marquise sits down at the piano and attempts to work through the piece with Marie who becomes more and more distracted and, along with Sulpice, takes up the regimental song.

Marie is 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 Marie, and Marie, Tonio and Sulpice are joyfully reunited, although he tries to tell her something she does not know but is ignored: (Trio, Marie, Sulpice, Tonio: Tous les trois réunis / "We three are reunited"). The Marquise enters, horrified to see soldiers. Tonio asks for Marie's hand, explaining that he risked his life for her: (Aria, Tonio: Pour me rapprocher de Marie, Je me enrôlai, pauvre soldat / "In order to woo Marie, I enlisted in the ranks") but she dismisses him scornfully. Tonio and Marie leave separately, and the Marquise confesses the truth to Sulpice: Marie is her own illegitimate daughter. In the circumstances, Sulpice promises that Marie will agree to her mother's wishes.

The Duchess and her nephew arrive and Marie enters with Sulpice, who has given her the news that the Marquise is her mother. Marie 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 it is revealed that Marie was a canteen girl. Indignantly, the Duchess leaves, but the other guests are 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 Marie's mother, and gives her consent to Marie and Tonio, amid universal rejoicing. (Final chorus: Salut a la France! / "Hurrah for France! For Happy times!"[22]


Year Cast
(Marie, Tonio,
Sulpice, La Marquise)
Opera House and Orchestra
1950 Lina Pagliughi,
Cesare Valletti,
Sesto Bruscantini,
Rina Corsi
Mario Rossi,
RAI Milan Orchestra and Chorus
CD: Aura Music
Cat: LRC 1115
1960 Anna Moffo,
Giuseppe Campora,
Giulio Fioravanti,
Iolande Gardino
Franco Mannino,
RAI Milan Orchestra and Chorus
Cat: 100713
1967 Joan Sutherland,
Luciano Pavarotti,
Spiro Malas,
Monica Sinclair
Richard Bonynge,
Royal Opera House Orchestra and Chorus
CD: Decca «Originals»
Cat: 478 1366
1970 Beverly Sills,
Grayson Hirst,
Fernando Corena,
Muriel Costa-Greenspon
Roland Gagnon,
American Opera Society Carnegie Hall
CD: Opera d'Oro
Cat: B000055X2G
1986 June Anderson,
Alfredo Kraus,
Michel Trempont,
Hélia T'Hézan
Bruno Campanella
Opéra National de Paris Orchestra and Chorus
(Video recording of a performance at the Opéra-Comique,
see Opera, August 1986)
VHS Video: Bel Canto Society
Cat: 628
1995 Edita Gruberová,
Deon van der Walt,
Philippe Fourcade,
Rosa Laghezza
Marcello Panni
Munich Radio Orchestra and Bavarian Radio Chorus (de)
CD: Nightingale
Cat: NC 070566-2
2007 Natalie Dessay,
Juan Diego Flórez,
Alessandro Corbelli,
Felicity Palmer,
Duchess: Dawn French
Bruno Campanella
Royal Opera House, Covent Garden Orchestra and Chorus,
Recording of a broadcast on 27 January [24]
DVD: Virgin Classics
Cat: 5099951900298[25]



  1. ^ Ashbrook 1982, p. 146.
  2. ^ Ashbrook 1982, p. 651, note 45.
  3. ^ Gilbert Duprez, Souvenirs d'un chanteur, 1880, p. 95 (at the Internet Archive).
  4. ^ a b c Quoted and translated by Ashbrook 1982, p. 146.
  5. ^ Ashbrook 1982, p. 651, note 46.
  6. ^ Wolff, S. Un demi-siècle d'opéra-comique (1900–1950). Paris: André Bonne, 1953, pp. 76–77
  7. ^ Ashbrook 1982, p. 568; Warrack & West 1992, p. 243 (recitatives by Donizetti); Loewenberg 1978, column 804, has 30 October 1840 for Milan.
  8. ^ Ashbrook 1982, p. 651, note 50.
  9. ^ Loewenberg 1978, column 805; Warrack & West 1992, p. 243.
  10. ^ Loewenberg 1978, column 805.
  11. ^ Lawrence, 1988, p. 215.
  12. ^ Quoted in Lawrence, 1988, p. 215.
  13. ^ Kobbé 1919, p. 355; Lawrence 1995, p. 226 (Anna Thillon).
  14. ^ Loewenberg 1978, column 805 (both London performances); Warrack & West 1992, p. 243 (Her Majesty's in London with Lind and Lablache).
  15. ^ Kobbé 1919, p. 355.
  16. ^ Beverly Sills website at
  17. ^ Metropolitan Opera archives database
  18. ^ James Naughtie, "Goodbye Pavarotti: Forget the Pavarotti with Hankies. He was Better Younger", The Times (London), 7 September 2007. Retrieved 22 April 2008
  19. ^ Manuela Hoelterhoff, "Lederhosen and Laughs as Met Tenor Struts His High C", on Retrieved 22 April 2008
  20. ^ Report of performances from 1 January 2012 forward on Retrieved 9 May 2014
  21. ^ Osborne, p. 273
  22. ^ Synopsis in part from the Metropolitan Opera as well as the booklet accompanying the 1967 Decca recording.
  23. ^ Source for recording information:Recording(s) of La fille du régiment on
  24. ^ Royal Opera House 2008: review
  25. ^ Royal Opera House 2008, excerpts on YouTube

Cited sources

Other sources

  • Allitt, John Stewart (1991), Donizetti: in the light of Romanticism and the teaching of Johann Simon Mayr, Shaftesbury: Element Books, Ltd (UK); Rockport, MA: Element, Inc.(USA)
  • Ashbrook, William and Hibberd, Sarah (2001). "Gaetano Donizetti", pp. 224–247 in The New Penguin Opera Guide, edited by Amanda Holden. New York: Penguin Putnam. ISBN 0-14-029312-4.
  • Black, John (1982), Donizetti's Operas in Naples, 1822–1848. London: The Donizetti Society.
  • Lawrence, Vera Brodsky (1995). Strong on Music: The New York Music Scene in the Days of George Templeton Strong. Volume II. Reverberations, 1850–1856. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. ISBN 978-0-226-47011-5.
  • Melitz, Leo (1921). The Opera Goer's Complete Guide. (Source of synopsis)
  • Sadie, Stanley, (Ed.); John Tyrell (Exec. Ed.) (2004), The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. 2nd edition. London: Macmillan. ISBN 978-0-19-517067-2 (hardcover). ISBN 0-19-517067-9 OCLC 419285866 (eBook).
  • Weinstock, Herbert, Donizetti and the World of Opera in Italy, Paris, and Vienna in the First Half of the Nineteenth Century, New York: Pantheon Books, 1963. LCCN 63-13703.

External links[edit]