Gaetano Donizetti wrote 65 operas in less than 30 years. At one point, one of every four operas performed in Italy was his. Getty Images hide caption
BACKGROUND:La fille du regiment — The Daughter of the Regiment — was originally written in French, for a premiere at the Opera Comique in Paris in 1840. Not long after that, an Italian version appeared and the opera became even more popular. In London, in 1847, it was performed in English, and its brilliant coloratura made it a favorite with superstar soprano Jenny Lind, who sang it at the Metropolitan in New York.
As with many French operas designated as opera comique, this one includes quite a bit of spoken dialogue. In the Vienna State Opera's production, much of the dialogue was rewritten specifically to reflect the time and place of the performance — and to create a vehicle for Montserrat Caballe's appearance as the Duchess of Crackentorp. For World of Opera, we've left out some of the lengthier spoken passages, while others remain intact.
Act 1: The story takes place in the early 1800s, in the mountains of the Swiss Tyrol. Villagers are gathered around as if on the lookout. They can hear a battle in the distance, and the women pray for a French victory. They're confident because the 21st Regiment of Grenadiers has joined the fight, and they are unbeatable. One of the grenadiers, Sergeant Sulpice, comes on the scene accompanied by an attractive young woman in a military uniform. Her name is Marie, and the grenadiers found her alone on a battlefield when she was just a little girl. The soldiers took her in, protected and raised her, and now love her as their own daughter.
Recently, though, Marie has been glum. Sulpice wonders whether she's brooding over a certain young man she's been seeing. Marie tells him that this young man saved her life — preventing her from falling off a cliff — and there's an attraction between them. That's all well and good, but the regiment has decreed that only a grenadier is worthy of their Marie.
Suddenly there's a commotion. Soldiers have captured a man named Tonio, saying he's been hanging around the camp and is surely a spy. Naturally, he turns out to be the man who rescued Marie from certain death. She pleads his case to the grenadiers, and they say he can go free — so long as he agrees to join the regiment. That's fine with Tonio — he'll do anything that will allow him to be near Marie. When he says he also wants to marry Marie, the soldiers are reluctant. But he wins them over with his sincerity, and Tonio celebrates with the famous number Pour mon ame.
A local Marquise then spoils the fun. She's the Marquise of Birkenfeld, and says she's related to Captain Robert — a former member of the regiment. This, she says, also makes her Marie's aunt. The Marquise has decided that it's unseemly for her own niece to be living with a regiment of soldiers. She declares that, from now on, Marie must live with her, in her grand chateau. It looks like Tonio has become a soldier for nothing. Marie sings a sad farewell to the soldiers, and to Tonio, and heads off to the chateau.
Act 2: At the Chateau de Birkenfeld, the Marquise is educating Marie in "ladylike" pastimes — teaching her to dance the minuet, and to sing more sophisticated music than the soldier songs she learned as a child. But Marie's heart isn't in it. Sulpice has also been staying at the chateau, reluctantly helping with Marie's new "upbringing." When the Marquise dozes, Marie and Sulpice give up on the fancy arias and minuets, and break into the rambunctious Song of the Regiment.
Their enthusiastic singing wakes up the Marquise, and their high spirits are quickly brought down when she reveals that Marie has been promised in marriage to the wealthy son of the house of Crackentorp. But they cheer up again when they hear the martial music of the grenadiers approaching in the distance. The soldiers soon arrive and Marie welcomes her old friends in the joyful scene, Pour ce contrat fatal.
The regiment marches in, led by Tonio, who has been promoted to captain. He sings an emotional Romance, pleading with the Marquise to grant him Marie's hand. The Marquise is moved, but she says it's too late — Marie's marriage has already been arranged. She'll soon be a Crackentorp.
Sulpice is prepared to make one final appeal on the couple's behalf when the Marquise reveals the truth about Marie's heritage. She confides to Sulpice that Marie is not her niece. She is actually the Marquise's daughter, born out of wedlock. Sulpice tells Marie, who caves in. She can't go against her own mother.
Guests arrive to witness the signing of the wedding contract. Marie recalls her tender memories as daughter of the regiment. The aristocrats surrounding her are scandalized. But the Marquise is so touched that she relents, and sends the astonished Crackentorps packing. The Marquise then leads Tonio to Marie and joins their hands. In a rousing ensemble finale, everyone wishes the couple well.
The Atlanta Opera continues its 2017-18 season with Donizetti's The Daughter of the Regiment, known for its romance, comedy, and vocal acrobatics. Andriana Chuchman will make her Atlanta debut as Marie, the adopted "daughter" of the French 21st regiment. Santiago Ballerini, an alum of The Atlanta Opera Studio artist, returns to Atlanta as Tonio. Mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe makes her role debut as The Marquise of Berkenfeld. This production marks the debut of The Daughter of the Regiment at the Cobb Energy Centre, and the first presentation in Atlanta since 1985.
The Daughter of the Regiment tells the story of Marie, an orphan found on a battlefield and adopted by an entire French regiment. As a young vivandière, she grows up with more than 1,500 "fathers." Years later, she falls in love with the handsome Tonio, a peasant who once saved her life. Just as their young love is blossoming, Marie is whisked away by a Marquise from her past who has news about her birth mother, and is intent on raising her amongst aristocracy. Marie must decide to fall into place in upper-class society or to follow her heart.
The Atlanta Opera presents The Daughter of the Regiment on February 24, 27, March 2 and 4, 2018 at Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre. Tickets start at $35 (before tax) and can be purchased at atlantaopera.org or by calling 404-881-8885. The opera will be performed in French with English supertitles.
"The Daughter of the Regiment is one of the most delightful Bel Canto operas in the repertoire," said Tomer Zvulun, General and Artistic Director at The Atlanta Opera. "As the name suggests, Bel Canto is all about gorgeous singing and we are eager to share the enormous talents of this cast with the public. We are especially excited to bring Santiago Ballerini, Andriana Chuchman and the inimitable Stephanie Blythe to Cobb Energy Center, under the baton of rising conducting star Christopher Allen."
Donizetti's screwball comedy will be directed by rising star E. Loren Meeker in her directorial debut with The Atlanta Opera. Meeker has received acclaim for her productions of Carmen at Washington National Opera, Lucia di Lammermoor at New Orleans Opera and La Bohème at Glimmerglass Festival.
Conductor Christopher Allen makes his debut with The Atlanta Opera. A native of Queens, New York, Maestro Allen recently received the 2017 Sir Georg Solti Conducting Award, which recognizes conducting talents at the early stages of their careers. Mo. Allen is the John L. Magro Resident Conductor for Cincinnati Opera, where he conducted Die Zauberflöte, Tosca, and the world premiere of Ricky Ian Gordon's Morning Star. Recent debuts include the English National Opera and Washington National Opera (where he conducted The Daughter of the Regiment).<
Andriana Chuchman makes her debut with The Atlanta Opera as the charming tomboy Marie. Chuchman recently performed the same role at Washington National Opera. This season, Chuchman reprised her role of Valencienne in The Merry Widow with the Metropolitan Opera. Recent opera engagements include the starring role of Eurydice in Lyric Opera of Chicago's new production of Orphée et Eurydice, as well as debuts with Houston Grand Opera and the San Diego Opera. Originally from Winnipeg, Canada, Chuchman received her Bachelor's Degree in Voice Performance from the School of Music at the University of Manitoba.
Santiago Ballerini returns to Atlanta in his role debut as Tonio, the love interest of Marie. Ballerini was a member of the inaugural class of The Atlanta Opera Studio, the company's artist-in-residence program. During his tenure, he covered the role of Ernesto in Don Pasquale. When lead Ji-Min Park fell ill, Ballerini stepped in on opening night and delivered a rousing performance. Following his time with The Atlanta Opera Studio, Ballerini covered the roles of Don Ottavio in Don Giovanni and Count Almaviva in The Barber of Seville at the Metropolitan Opera, sang in Der Rosenkavalier at Tetaro Colón in Buenos Aires, and made his debut at Caramoor Summer Music Festival. Santiago Ballerini is sponsored by John and Rosemary Brown.
Stephanie Blythe makes her Atlanta Opera debut as the Marquise of Berkenfeld. Blythe is one of the most critically acclaimed artists in opera, and has graced stages around the world, including the Met, Paris National, San Francisco and Chicago Lyric Operas. Highlights in 2017 included singing the roles of Cornelia in Julius Caesar at Houston Grand Opera, Tancredi in Tancredi at Opera Philadelphia, and a recital performance with The Metropolitan Opera.
Italian star Stefano de Peppo sings the role of Sulpice, the Sergeant of the 21st Regiment of the French army, and father-figure to Marie. Known for his Italian bass roles, Peppo recently sang the roles of Don Bartolo in The Barber of Seville at Opera de Massy, Don Pasquale in Don Pasquale at Chautauqua Opera Festival, and Don Magnifico in La Cenerentola at Arizona Opera. Peppo was last seen in Atlanta in 2014 in The Barber of Seville.
Running time is approximately 1 hours and 50 minutes and there will be 1 intermission.
Santiago Ballerini is sponsored by John and Rosemary Brown. The Friday evening performance is sponsored by Victoria and Howard Palefsky.
The Atlanta Opera recognizes Coca-Cola as the opening night sponsor, and The Home Depot Foundation as the sponsor of the company's veterans ticketing program.
Photo credit: Scott Suchman