The Daughter of the Regiment
Setting: The place and time is the Swiss Tyrol in the early nineteenth century. While the villagers watch and pray for safety, the forces of Napoleon are engaged in a battle in the nearby mountains.
The Marquise of Berkenfield has been travelling through the mountains but has been stopped by the fighting. Faint with fear, she is attended by Hortensius, her steward. She complains that the French have no respect for a woman of her family; she has been told they are monsters. (Aria: For a lady of my family). A peasant announces that the French are retreating; the village is safe, and all rejoice. The Marquise sends Hortensius to make sure it really is safe to continue their journey and enters a nearby cottage to wait for his return. When Sulpice, a sergeant of the French 21st regiment, appears, the women shriek and scatter. He assures them they are safe, as long as they are pretty. When Marie, the “daughter” of the regiment, appears playing on the drums, she and Sulpice recall how she was found while still a baby on a battlefield. The whole regiment adopted her as their daughter and all are now her fathers. When she grew up, she was promoted to the post of a vivandière and she would march to battle if she had to. Amid the din of battle, she comforts them, and she entertains them with her singing in the evening. They all join in the military song. (Chorus: Rataplan)
Sulpice notes that Marie has seemed sad lately and she confesses she is in love with a local Tyrolean who saved her life when she almost fell from a precipice. However, she must marry a member of the regiment. They are interrupted by a group of soldiers holding a young Tyrolean who has been caught lurking near the camp. It is Tonio, the man Marie loves. When the soldiers denounce him as a traitor, she comes to his defense saying they can’t kill the man who saved her life. That changes things, and they all drink a toast to him. He, in turn, toasts France; he wishes to join their regiment. All sing the regimental song (Aria and chorus: Everyone knows it). A drum announces that it is time for the roll call which all must obey. The soldiers depart, taking Tonio with them and leaving a sulking Marie behind. Suddenly Tonio reappears; he has escaped. He confesses he loves her and will give up his own country for her (Aria: Ever since the moment). Marie is dubious at first, but he convinces her, and she admits she returns his love (Duet: Against such tender declarations). They embrace, observed by Sulpice.
The Marquise and Hortensius appear to ask Sulpice for a safe-conduct so she can return to her Chateau Berkenfield. Sulpice is taken aback — that is the name Captain Robert mentioned. In turn the Marquise reveals her now dead sister knew the Captain. In fact, she had a child by him. “A daughter?” he asks. Yes, a daughter who was placed in the care of an elderly servant who was killed before he could bring the child to her. Sulpice reveals that her niece was saved and brought up by the regiment. Just then Marie enters and is introduced to her aunt who is shocked by the girl’s manners and military vocabulary. She tries to introduce her “father”, the whole regiment, and the Marquise insists on taking her away with her. As the soldiers all appear, Marie and the Marquise leave, followed shortly by Sulpice. Tonio runs in excitedly — he is about to join the regiment — and sings his new comrades. (Aria: Ah, my friends). He asks her “father’s” permission to marry Marie but he is told she can only marry a member of the regiment. However, Tonio convinces them Marie loves him and, since he is now a member of the regiment himself, they finally give permission for the marriage. He sings of his happiness, ending in a spectacular run of nine high Cs! (Aria: Pour mon âme — For my soul) His joy is shattered when Sulpice announces that Marie must go with the Marquise to be properly educated.
In the finale, sadly they all say good-bye (Ensemble: I must leave). Tonio wants to follow her. Ironically, he joined the regiment to marry her but now must obey orders and stay behind.
Setting: The drawing room of the Chateau Berkenfield. Several months later.
The marriage contract between Marie and the Duke of Krakenthorp has just been drawn up. He is one of the most illustrious nobles of Bavaria. The Marquise has sent for Sulpice to ask his help in persuading Marie to sign the contract that evening. The girl has consented but is still reluctant. The Marquise thinks Marie’s military manners and speech have almost been erased and she is anxious to show off her niece. She will sing “Venus descends”, a French art song, to demonstrate her new persona. Sulpice mutters to himself about the slow showy music; it is not as stimulating as their regimental song which he starts to sing. Distracted, Marie picks up his beat but is brought back by the Marquise. Finally Sulpice wins and Marie joins him in his more exuberant music. The Marquise gives up and exits, followed by Sulpice, leaving Marie to meditate on her fate and hide her sadness in the midst of luxury. Suddenly she hears military music. Her fathers have arrived! Among them is Tonio who has now become an officer. He, Marie and Sulpice sing of their happy reunion and fond memories. (Trio: We three reunited) Tonio and Marie beg Sulpice to intervene with the Marquise on their behalf so they can marry. He tries to get them to listen to him, but they are interrupted by the arrival of the Marquise to whom Tonio pleads his case, telling her how he joined the army to be close to Marie. However, she can not help; Marie is promised to the Duke, and Tonio must leave. Left alone, the Marquise confesses to Sulpice that she is Marie’s mother, not her aunt and begs him to help her convince Marie to marry the Duke. Moved, he reluctantly agrees.
In the finale, the noble guests begin to assemble, among them the Duchess of Krackenthorp. Marie appears, ready to sign the contract. Sulpice has told her of her true parentage and she embraces her mother. Suddenly the soldiers rush in determined to rescue Marie. She is the daughter of the regiment and belongs with Tonio. When Marie starts to sign the contract, she is stopped by the Marquise who reveals the truth. Her daughter shall have the husband of her choice. All join in a Salute to France.
The detailed synopsis is credited to Lyric Opera San Diego.