Opera Comique (French for “Lyrical Tragedy”, remember Carmen was one of these) en deux actes. Running Time: 1 hour 46 minutes.
SETTING: Tyrol (French version) or Switzerland (Italian version) during the Napoleonic Wars. The tyrannical Marchese of Berkenfield finds her niece Marie (whom she has not seen since she was a small child) who has spent her entire formative years as a canteen girl for the 21st Regiment of the French Army. She is taken away from the men she loves (including new local recruit Tonio who joins up just so he can have a chance of marrying her) by auntie dearest to disastrous results.
LOOK OUT FOR:
0: The overture * starts off with a horn solo, the woodwinds pop in, and finally the strings, none of it immediately tuneful until a mild Marche militaire comes in at about the mid-way point. It does get more effective in the second half. A charming comic piece, if a bit of a tornado.
ACT 1: An idyllic scene in the Tyrolean or Swiss countryside, Alpine. (66 minutes)
7: A surprisingly serious opening chorus of a prayerful tranquility ** as the Tyrolean (or Swiss) villagers pray to the Virgin Mary for protection from the invading French troops. They become agitated upon the arrival of the Marchese of Berkenfield, increasing the intensity of their praying.
10: The Marchese’s cavatina *** is a brilliant comic aria which a good singing-actress can very effectively pull off. It is aristocratic War Time freak out at its best. Good chorusing follows.
17: Marie arrives in a coloratura flourish, because she is a coloratura soprano after all. Her duet with Sergeant Sulpice (her adoptive father? technically all of the regiment claims to be her adoptive father so…) starts off in recitative but quickly turns into a brilliant exposition ** about military life from her feminine perspective full of coloratura explosives. Next they get down to the business of a young man whom Marie has been seen in the company of.
26: The other members of the regiment bring in Tonio (the young man probably of Swiss Italian who has been lurking around their encampment and arousing suspicion). This prompts a brief musical climax *, and a lot of recitative in which the plot moves forward, namely that the regiment wants to execute Tonio but Marie saves him by explaining that he is a local boy who saved her life when she nearly fell from a cliff.
29: Marie goes into her regimental song *** with backup from her dads.
33: Another chorus for the 21st Regiment **, it takes a bit to heat up but the tune is catchy. Effectively, if Tonio loves Marie and wishes to marry her, he must join the 21st!
37, 40, 42: Tonio tells Marie that he loves her naturally prompting an eight-minute love duet *** in which he begs her to hear him out, she promises, and he embarks on some rather beautiful phrases. She reciprocates in a gear change *** and he turns the tables on her and has her recount her side of things *** and they finish off with a return of the gear change.
47: The Marchese and Marie recognize each other rather quickly. The Regiment returns for a furious Rataplan * and Sulpice announces that a new recruit has been added to their force.
49: Tonio’s post-recruitment aria *** (of course, what did you think it would get?). The Regiment gets in on it as a unified body of ornery dads who don’t want to let their daughter out of the house, but Tonio has one card up his sleeve (Marie loves him!). And, in a seventy second period he pulls off ten high-Cs!
57, 63: The finale really starts with Marie’s sad return ***, she is being taken away by her aunt and she definitely doesn’t want to leave the 21st behind. Marie is collected **, they all put up a good fight but they are no match for the formidable Marchese.
ACT 2: The fortified mountain citadel of the Marchese of Berkenfield, months later. (40 minutes)
0: The act opens with the most ironic tune in human history **, I didn’t even know Donizetti came up with it! The Marchese barks orders at Sulpice (who has been brought to encourage Marie in her etiquette lessons) and forces Marie in during an accompanied recitative to sing for the formidable aunt.
5, 8, 12: Marie’s piano accompanied vocal lesson **, at first pretty until real orchestral instruments come in and ruin everything. Eventually Marie breaks into her regimental song **, but eventually it just turns into a combination of backstage at the San Carlo and a prototype for the Bell Song. Comedically it is very effective but musically minimal. It ends in a regimental ensemble * as that is all Marie really wants to sing.
14: Marie is left alone and ponders how horrible her life has become ***.
20: The 21st Regiment invades the Marchese’s castle ***. Watch for Marie’s repeated high note bit.
24: A comic trio for Marie, Tonio, and Sulpice ***.
27: Tonio’s romance ***.
34, 39: In a dialogue the tune from the entr’acte reappears and the Duchess of Krackenthorp arrives. She and Marie recognize each other as mother and daughter! Tonio leads the finale **. Marie emotes briefly and the Marchese is so happy to have her sister back at well. The last minute mostly consists of Marie trying to sing higher than ever before ***.
Who says same-sex adoption is a bad thing (or a 21st century concept!), Marie turned out great and she had forty dads and no mum! This was almost a failure at its premiere in Paris in 1840, apparently the tenor was off pitch the entire time. Having heard Juan Diego Florez sing this first I do find Pavarotti a little dark vocally for Tonio but absolutely everyone does a great job in this recording especially, it goes without saying, Joan Sutherland. An alpha.