Updated: Aug 6, 2021
Mistaken identities, youthful rebellion, and hilarious hijinks abounds in this classic Donizetti comedy. Not a single laugh gets lost in translation when Marie embarks on a journey of love and patriotism. Discovered on a battlefield as a baby, and raised by the twenty-first Regiment as their own 'daughter,' the spunky Marie grows up as their beloved mascot.
One day her foster-father Sulpice declares that she should marry a soldier from the Regiment. When Marie fall head over heels for the Tyrolean Tonio, it appears that she may have to choose between her family and true love in Fort Worth Opera's critically acclaimed 2013 production.
Daughter of the Regiment
The Daughter of the Regiment is a bel canto opera. Bel canto ("beautiful singing") generally refers to the 19th Century Italian vocal writing of Gioachino Rossini, Vincenzo Bellini, and Gaetano Donizetti. Technically, it refers to a style of singing that includes light tones in the high register with an agile, flexible, and perfectly legato delivery. And while this all applies to The Daughter of the Regiment, the story line is far removed from the traditionally accepted bel canto sagas - the leading lady does not kill herself or anyone else. No one goes mad and no one dies.
Although Gaetano Donizetti (1797-1848) was an Italian composer, The Daughter of the Regiment is a French opéra conque not merely an Italian opera buffa translated into French. The term opéra comique changed meanings throughout the 19th century. Originally, it referred to a simple, entertaining work with humorous appeal, which describes Daughter perfectly. However, by mid to late century the term was more often applied to tragic operas that used spoken dialogue, and operas that were light-hearted and comedic were beginning to be labeled opéra bouffes. For example, Georges Bizet's Carmen with its spoken text and tragic ending was considered an opéra cornique while Jacques Offenbach's Orpheus in the Underworld, a parody of Greek mythology, was an opéra bouffe. Daughter, premiering in 1840, was written by Donizetti during the time that the definitions of French opera had just begun to shift.
Donizetti was born in Bergamo, Italy, and his extraordinary musical talents earned him a scholarship to study music despite his family's wish for him to go into law instead. He studied first with Simon Mayr, a leading composer of the 19th century, who became Donizetti's life-long friend and mentor. Mayr, when he felt that Donizetti needed to move on to a better instructor, arranged and partly paid for the young man to study at the Bologna Conservatory under Padre Stanislao Mattei, who was also at one time Rossini's teacher. Donizetti's first opera premiered when he was only 21 years old. Its success started the composer on the road to Naples, an important hub for Italian opera, and later to Paris. Although he died at the age of 51, Donizetti managed to turn out at least 65 complete operas plus the beginnings of some ten unfinished works all of which made him a leading figure in Italian opera both during his lifetime and after his death.
As the center of the opera world for all of Europe in the 19th century, Paris attracted composers from all over Europe, but Italian composers seemed to receive an especially warm reception there. The Théâtre Italien (also called ComédieItalienne or later Opéra-Comique) was the Parisian home of Italian opera, and the operas composed by the trio of bel canto Italian composers, Rossini, Donizetti, and Vincenzo Bellini, were Performed ceaselessly at the theater beginning in the 1820s and for decades afterwards.
In 1838, Donizetti was still in Naples. The censors objected to the political implications of the opera he was writing at the time, Poliuto, and in a fit of angry protest the composer decided to leave Italy and go to Paris where he planned to write the French version of Poliuto: Les Martyrs. But when he arrived in Paris, his time was occupied instead by making a French adaption of his Lucia di Lammermoor and by revising his Roberto Devereux for the Théâtre Italien. Soon he was given the libretto for La Fille du Régiment ("The Daughter of the Regiment") written by the team of Jules-Henri Vernoy de Saint-Georges and Jean Françoise Alfred Bayard.
Like many other operas that are well known and respected today, The Daughter of the Regiment was not highly regarded at the time of its premiere. It soon became one of Donizetti's most popular operas, receiving 44 performances in its first year alone. Hector Berlioz, the famous French composer and Donizetti's contemporary, was known to quip, "One can no longer speak of the opera houses of Paris but only of the opera houses of M. Donizetti." Berlioz was also one of the critics who accused Donizetti publically of simply recycling one of his Italian scores for Daughter, and in turn Donizetti wrote to the editor of the Moniteur universe/ to refute Berlioz's claims point by point.
The score for Daughter is an unusual mingling of vigorous military marches and sentimental yearning music. Donizetti's elegant melodies throughout give the opera its unifying character despite the widely different styles of music employed. The charming overture previews Marie's well-known regimental song and frequent coloratura showpiece, "We are the best" ("Chacun le sait"). The love duet between Tonio and Marie, "So, then, you love me" ("Quoi! Vous m'aimez") is lighthearted, and Tonio's double aria, in which he obtains the permission of the entire regiment to marry Marie, "Yes, it is true" ("Ah! Yes amis") is a superb partner to Marie's show-stopper. This is the tenor aria that has members of the audience counting all the high Cs. (Donizetti wrote it with 8, but most tenors seize the opportunity to add another one to the final bars.) In terms of the composers ability to communicate genuine emotion in a refined fashion, Tonio's plea to the Marquise in Act Il, "Indeed I enlisted in the army" ("Pour me rapprocher de Marie") is a perfect example of a graceful melody combined with heartfelt pathos.
While the popularity of some operas seem to ebb and flow at times, the boisterous martial atmosphere that introduces The Daughter of the Regiment has made it a particularly alluring one to stage in times of war. The role of Marie has attracted many coloratura sopranos, some of them very well-known prima donnas: Jenny Lind, Luisa Tetrazzini, Frieda Hempel Lily Pons, June Anderson, Joan Sutherland, Beverly Sills, and most recently Natalie Dessay.
At least two of these sopranos famously used the opportunity of playing Marie to make war-time statements. The Metropolitan Opera in New York revived Daughter specifically for the German-born Frieda Hempel in the 1917-1918 season, close to the end of World War l. Hempel, who was a Met regular from 1912 to 1920, inserted the British patriotic ballad "Keep the Home Fires Burning," clearly marking her as sympathetic to the Allies. Soon after the Nazis took occupation of France during World War Il, Lily Pons, the French-American soprano concluded her 1940 performances as Marie by performing the "Marseillaise while draped in the flag of the Free French Forces and carrying another flag with the Cross of Lorraine. Pons would also later cancel her 1944 season at the Met to tour the front lines entertaining troops with the USO.
Director of the Fort Worth Opera Studio/Eduction, Hannah Guinn earned her master's in musicology and bachelor's in vocal performance from Texas Christian University. Before joining FWOpera in 2008, she worked for the Van Cliburn Foundation, where among other duties, she was editor for all their printed materials.
Daughter of the Regiment
At the outskirts of a village in the Tyrolean Mountains, the Marquise de Birkenfeld and her butler Hortensius have been forced to delay their journey since a skirmish has erupted. While they sit terrified, a chorus of Tyrolean peasants sings valiantly and the women and children pray. As news arrives that the French troops have retreated, the Marquise comments on the rude manners of the French ("How dreadful are the times of war"). Sulpice, sergeant of the 21 st Regiment, arrives to assure the villagers that his troops will restore peace to the area. He is joined by Marie, the canteen girl and mascot of the Regiment, which adopted her as a young orphaned girl. She shows her bravada, details her great patriotism, her joy in living a soldier's life, and her passion for the sound of the drum ("The thunder of the battle was my cradle").
Sulpice then questions her about a young man that has been seen with her recently. He is Tonia, a local Tyrolean who saved her from nearly failing off a cliff. Sulpice warns her not to develop feelings for Tonio and is quick to remind her of the Regiment's decree that only a soldier can have her hand in marriage. Amid a commotion, the 2F Regiment arrives with a prisoner - Tonio - who explains that he was not spying but rather looking for Marie. She pleads for his release, and he is ordered to follow the soldiers. After, the chorus sings a celebratory drinking song. Tonio escapes the Regiment, returning to declare his love for Marie, and she does likewise ("So, then, you love me"). Sulpice surprises the love-struck couple and Marie admits to her beau that she can only marry a solider of the company.
The Marquise enters and asks that Sulpice and the Regiment escort her safely to her castle. Upon hearing her name, Sulpice is reminded of a letter that accompanied the young Marie when he found her on the battlefield. After some questioning, the Marquise admits that she indeed knew the girl's father, explaining that Marie was the daughter of her sister, but she had been lost when placed in the Marquise's care some years prior. The Marquise conspires to bring Marie back to her castle and oversee her education - teaching her the manners and ways of the aristocracy - since she disapproves of the soldiers as suitable companions for her new-found niece. In the meantime, Tonio has enlisted with the Regiment in order to marry Marie. He is upbeat and optimistic about his new life ("Yes, it is true"), but his happiness is short lived when Marie arrives with the news that she must leave both him and the Regiment.
At the Marquise's chateau, Marie is growing bored of the dancing and etiquette lessons, but she is comforted by Sulpice who is there recovering from an injury. Although he is meant to be helping the Marquise with her plans, he encourages Marie's small acts of rebelliousness, much to the aggravation of the Marquise ('The grove lay still and cool"). After a feisty exchange and when Marie is finally left alone, she focuses on the meaninglessness of money and societal position, Having had her fill of the Marquise's harassment, Marie is overjoyed when the Regiment visits the castle. Tonio, who has been promoted for his acts of valor, asks the Marquise for Marie's hand in marriage. She tells him that Marie is engaged to another man and dismisses him. Left alone with Sulpice, the Marquise finally admits the truth - Marie is her own illegitimate daughter whom she abandoned as an infant for fear of social disgrace.
While the wedding party assembles, Marie is shocked to learn the truth about the Marquise being her mother from Suipice. Not wanting to go against her mother's wishes, she consents to go through with the arranged marriage. However, just as she is to sign the marriage contract, the 21 5t Regiment, led by Tonio, storms in to rescue Marie. The wedding guests are shocked to learn that she was once the company's canteen girl, but she explains to them her circumstance and the debt that she owes the soldiers. So moved by her daughter's goodness, the Marquise consents to her marriage of Tonio and the entire group joins together in a fnal hymn of praise to France ("A toast to the future").
Synopsis by Christina Kucan, PR/Communications Specialist, and Hannah Guinn, Director of Fort Worth Opera Studio/Education.
CAST AND CREATIVE
Daughter of the Regiment
Music by Gaetano Donizetti
Libretto by J.F.A. Bayard and J.H. Vernoy De Saint
Spoken dialogue and text by Dorothy Danner
Featuring the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra
Conductor Christopher Larkin
Director Dorothy Danner
Scenic Designer Boyd Ostroff
Makeup and Wig Designer Steven Bryant
Lighting Designer Chad R. Jung
Costume Designer Beni Montresor
Stage Manager Gina Hayes
Assistant Director Matthew Powell
Repetiteur Jody Schum
English Supertitle Cueing Keith A. Wolfe
Spanish Supertitle Translation Gabriela Lomónaco
Marquise De Birkenfeld Joyce Castle
Hortensius Darren K. Woods
Peasant John Green
Sulpice Rod Nelman
Marie Ava Pine
Tonio David Portillo
The Corporal Michael Adams
Duchesse De Krakenthorp J.R. Labbe
Notary Christopher Leach
All photos by Ellen Appel