25 February 2014 at 2.50pm | Comment on this article
The Story Begins…
Found on a battlefield as a baby, Marie has been brought up among a regiment of French soldiers as their daughter. When she falls for a young Tyrolean, Tonio (who is not in the fiercely patriotic regiment), it seems that she may have to choose between love and her adopted family. But that’s not the end of it: just who were her real parents?
A Comic Opera for Paris
Donizetti wrote La Fille du régiment during his extended stay in Paris in the late 1830s. His music had become extremely popular with French audiences, and he received several opera commissions. La Fille du régiment, commissioned by Paris’s second opera house, the Opéra-Comique, had its premiere on 11 February 1840. After an initially mixed reception it became very popular. The opera was performed across Europe in the 1840s and reached London in 1847.
A Popular Theme
La Fille du régiment is set during the Napoleonic Wars of 1803–15. The opera’s subject would have been relished by 1840s Parisian audiences, among whom the days of the First Empire had become the stuff of legend. The story is in many ways historically accurate, particularly as regards the duties performed by Marie for her regiment: vivandières played a crucial part in army life by caring and catering for the soldiers.
Larger than Life
Laurent Pelly’s production draws attention to the larger-than-life aspects of Donizetti’s opera. The set is partly constructed out of vast maps that chart the army’s progress across the Alps; Marie’s tasks in looking after the army include ironing huge numbers of clothes and peeling sacks of potatoes; and Tonio comes to her rescue in Act II in a very dramatic and military way!
A Show for Stars
La Fille du régiment is known both for its catchy melodies, such as the regimental song ‘Il est là, morbleu, le beau Vingt-et-unième’ and the chorus ‘Salut à la France!’ and for the extreme difficulty of the two lead roles, both very high-flying and flamboyant in style. The hero, Tonio, has a particularly challenging time: his Act I aria ‘Ah! mes amis’ contains nine top Cs!