Act I

War is raging in the Tyrolean mountains. The Marquise of Berkenfield, who is traveling in the area along with her faithful butler, Hortensius, finds that her path is suddenly blocked by the French army. When the marquise hears from a group of local villagers that the French troops have begun to move away, she remarks on the boorish ways of the French (“Pour une femme de mon nom”). When Sergeant Sulpice of the Twenty-First Regiment of the French army arrives to calm nerves and assure everyone the regiment will restore order, Hortensius asks Sulpice to let the marquise continue her journey. Sulpice is joined by Marie, the “daughter” of the regiment which adopted her as an orphaned baby. Sulpice is happy to see Marie, (“Mais, qui Vient? Tiens, Marie, notre fille”) but begins to question her about a young man she has been seen with recently. She identifies him as Tonio, a Tyrolean from a nearby village. At that same moment, Tonio is brought in as a prisoner who has been seen prowling around the camp. Marie steps in to save him from the soldiers, explaining that this Tyrolean—though an enemy—once saved her life when she nearly fell while mountain climbing. The regiment toasts to Tonio, and Marie sings the regimental song: (“Chacun le sait”). Sulpice leads the soldier off, taking Tonio with them, but Tonio runs back to declare his love for Marie. She is thrilled, but quick to tell him that he must gain the approval of her “fathers”—the soldiers of the regiment—who found her on the battlefield as an abandoned baby if he wants to marry her.

The Marquise of Berkenfield having waited long enough, asks Sulpice for an escort back to her castle. Upon hearing the name Berkenfield, Sulpice immediately recognizes it from a letter found with Marie as an infant. It is soon discovered that the marquise knew the girl’s father and says that Marie is her long-lost niece. The marquise’s sister had left the child in her care, but in the tumult of war, the baby was lost on the battlefield and never found. Shocked by Marie’s unconventional upbringing and rough manners, the marquise takes her niece back to her castle, determined to give her a proper education. Tonio, who has just enlisted and joined the Twenty-First Regiment (“Ah, mes amis”), is shocked to learn that Marie has to leave the regiment (“Il faut partir”).

Act II

Marie has been living in the marquise’s castle for several months. In a conversation with Sulpice, who has joined the marquise and Marie at the Berkenfield castle, the Marquise describes how she has arranged a marriage between Marie and Scipion, nephew of the Duchess of Krakenthorp. The marquise has sought to expunge Marie’s military manners and transform her into a lady of fashion suitable for marriage. Marie has reluctantly agreed to the arrangement and Sulpice is asked to encourage her. During one of Marie’s singing lessons with the marquise, the young lady in training, encouraged by Sulpice, slips in phrases of the regimental song. The marquise loses her temper (“Le jour naissait dans la bocage”). Left alone, Marie reconciles her fate thinking about the meaninglessness of money and position (“Par le rang et l’opulence”). Suddenly, she hears soldiers marching in the distance and is joyously delighted to see that the whole regiment has arrived. As the soldiers file into the hall, Tonio, Marie, and Sulpice are reunited. While the marquise takes in the horrific sight of solders in her castle, Tonio asks for Marie’s hand, declaring his love for her (“Pour me rapprocher de Marie”). The marquise declares her niece is engaged to another man and Marie scornfully dismisses Tonio. Marie returns to her chambers and Tonio is ordered to leave. Alone with Sulpice, the marquise confesses that Marie is her own illegitimate daughter whom she abandoned in fear of social disgrace.

Hortensius announces the arrival of the wedding party, headed by the Duchess of Krakenthorp. Marie refuses to leave her room to greet the guests, but when Sulpice tells her that the marquise is her mother, the bewildered young woman decides she cannot go against her mother’s wishes and agrees to marry Scipion. At the last minute, when Marie is about to sign the marriage contract, the soldiers of the regiment storm in to rescue their “daughter (“Au secours de notre fille”). When the regiment reveals Marie was a canteen girl, the noble wedding guests become offended, but are then led to change their opinions when Marie sings of her debt to and gratitude towards the soldiers (“Quand le destin, milieu de la guerre”). The marquise, deeply moved by Marie’s love for her “fathers”, admits she is Marie’s real mother, and gives her blessing to Marie and Tonio’s marriage. All join in rejoicing this happy occasion (“Salut à la France”).

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