The Daughter of the RegimentSynopsis by Michael Clive
by Michael Clive
As The Daughter of the Regiment opens, we see the Tyrol region’s Francophone citizens rebelling against centuries of Austro-Hungarian domination. The time is early in the 19th Century, and the military skirmishes are localized, day-to-day, back-and-forth; Napoleon of France was keeping an eye on the conflict, mulling his options, while the local citizens were caught in the crossfire, fretting for their safety — like the Marquise of Berkenfield, whom we find traveling in the area and alarmed to the point of needing smelling salts to be administered by her faithful steward, Hortensius.
With the French moving away, the populace express feelings of relief until the French regiment’s Sergeant Sulpice arrives, provoking new fears; but he assures everyone that the regiment will restore order. Then, with the entrance of Marie, the regiment’s popular vivandière (canteen girl), everyone cheers up again. Sergeant Sulpice questions her with fatherly concern about a certain young man seen with her recently. Just as she identifies him as Tonio, he is brought in as a prisoner, taken into custody while prowling around the camp. The soldiers demand his execution, but Marie saves him by explaining that he 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.
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 as an infant and adopted her. They declare their mutual love.
Sulpice returns, surprising the young couple, who leave; the Marquise arrives with Hortensius, who is initially afraid of the soldier, then calmed by him. The Marquise explains that they are trying to return to her castle and asks for an escort. Upon hearing the name Berkenfield, Sulpice remembers it from a letter found with Marie as an infant — leading to the discovery that Marie is the Marquise’s long-lost niece. Marie returns and is surprised to be introduced to her aunt. The Marquise commands that Marie accompany her to live and learn the social graces befitting her new station in life. Marie bids farewell to her beloved regiment just as Tonio enters and dramatically announces that he has enlisted in their ranks. When he proclaims his love for Marie, the soldiers are resistant, and though his pleading eventually wins them over, they must tell him that Marie’s aunt is taking her from the regiment. The act ends with a choral finale as Marie tearfully leaves with the Marquise, leaving Tonio enraged.
For months, Marie has been unhappily confined in the Marquise’s castle, taking lessons in the refinements required of a young lady of the nobility. The Marquise’s mission is to obliterate all vestiges of regimental life and transform Marie into a suitable match for her nephew, the Duke of Krakenthorp. Marie has reluctantly agreed, and Sulpice is asked to encourage her; when Marie enters and is asked to play the piano, her musical demonstration veers off into the regimental song, which she and Sulpice sing with gusto despite the Marquise’s attempts to discipline her.
Left alone, the despondent Marie ponders her fate. But then, hearing martial music, she is overjoyed to greet the regiment. The soldiers, too, express their joy at seeing Marie, and Marie, Tonio and Sulpice are happily reunited. Amid the excitement, Tonio mentions he has just learned a secret, via his uncle the burgermeister, that he cannot reveal.
The Marquise enters, horrified to see soldiers. Tonio asks for Marie’s hand, explaining that he risked his life for her, but the Marquise scornfully dismisses him. Tonio reveals that he knows that the Marquise never had a niece. Agitated, she orders him to leave and Marie to return to her chambers; after they leave, the Marquise confesses the truth to Sulpice: Marie is her own illegitimate daughter. In view of these circumstances, Sulpice promises that Marie will agree to her mother’s wishes.
The Duchess of Krakenthorp, her son the groom-to-be, and the wedding entourage arrive at the Marquise’s castle. 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 crucial moment, the soldiers of the Regiment storm in and reveal that Marie was a canteen girl. Initially, this revelation shocks the wedding guests. But when Marie sings of her debt to the soldiers, the guests are deeply moved — as is the Marquise, who openly admits she is Marie’s mother. She gives her consent to Marie and Tonio’s marriage amid universal rejoicing.