Long Story Short
Tomboy, unable to transform into snooty duchess, finds true love anyway.
Marie was adopted by a regiment when they found her on a battlefield as an infant; thus she has 1,500 fathers and no mother. At the beginning of the opera she's a teenage "vivandière" or camp girl.
Sulpice is a gruff old sergeant in Napoleon's 21st Grenadiers.
The Marquise of Birkenfeld, a rich spinster, knows a secret about Marie's past.
Hortensius is the cowardly servant of the Marquise.
Tonio, a young Tyrolean peasant, saved Marie's life when she slipped while mountain-climbing. He immediately became smitten.
The Duchess of Krackentorp is a haughty grand dame lioness with an eligible bachelor son, somewhere offstage.
Where and When?
In Tyrol, a region in the Alps, in the early nineteenth century. Seattle Opera's 2013 production is set in the 1940s.
What's Going On?
Sergeant Sulpice, the big cheese in a regiment of French soldiers just about to pull out of Tyrol, is a little worried about Marie, the daughter of the regiment. She's been spotted several times now, talking to a handsome young local. But, by regimental decree as well as her own vow, Marie can only marry a soldier from the regiment. So when her sweetheart Tonio is captured by the regiment as an enemy spy, he enlists in order to be eligible to marry his beloved. It's the happiest day of his life, he sings, when he becomes both soldier and affianced. But his happiness is short-lived. Encountering the regiment, the Marquise of Birkenfeld, a local aristocrat, recognizes in Marie a child long missing from her wealthy family. She whisks Marie off to be made into a lady, leaving the regiment forlorn and Tonio devastated.
Some months later, the Marquise is trying to arrange a marriage between Marie and the young Duke of Krackentorp. Her efforts to transform Marie into a dazzling society debutante, however, have failed to take; Marie prefers singing her old regimental ditties to the latest popular Romantic songs. Tonio, meanwhile, has worked his way up in the regiment to lieutenant's rank; he has also been doing some snooping and has determined that the Marquise's story about Marie's birth is untrue. On the night of Marie's arranged wedding he bursts into the Birkenfeld chateau, accompanied by the regiment, and confronts the Marquise. The secret of Marie's origin is revealed, society snobbery is foiled, true love wins out, and everybody salutes the French flag!