Major Operas | Don Pasquale by Gaetano Donizetti | Early Romantic

Donizetti’s three-act comic opera, Don Pasquale, full of fun and infectious humour, was first performed at the Théâtre Italien in Paris on 3 January 1843. There was no hint here of Donizetti’s failing health, but as time proved, Don Pasquale was among the last of his remarkable total of 67 operas.

The first performance was a tremendous success. Donizetti was there and, to judge from a letter he afterwards wrote to his music publisher, Giovanni Ricordi (1785–1853), he was lionized by the audience: ‘I was called out at the end of the second and third acts,’ he wrote, ‘and there was not one piece, from the overture on, that was not applauded to a greater or lesser extent. I am very happy.’ Donizetti was not the only one to score a brilliant success. Luigi Lablache (1794–1858), who created the title role, sang at the London premiere at the Haymarket Theatre on 29 June 1843. Afterwards, a contemporary journal, The Musical World of London, raved about Lablache, calling him ‘one of the greatest ornaments of the Italian opera in this or any other age’. Queen Victoria, the reigning monarch, was certainly impressed with him: she appointed Lablache as her singing teacher.

Composed: 1842–43
Premiered: 1843, Paris
Libretto by Giovanni Ruffini, after Angelo Anelli

Act I

Don Pasquale, a bachelor, is angry with his nephew Ernesto for refusing to marry the woman of his choice. Ernesto is in love with the widow Norina, who is far from wealthy, and Don Pasquale has decided to punish him by taking a bride himself and disinheriting his nephew. His friend Dr Malatesta arrives to announce that he has found a suitable bride – his sister Sofronia, a shy convent girl. Don Pasquale is delighted.

Don Pasquale offers Ernesto one more chance to agree to the match, but Ernesto, declaring his love for Norina, refuses. His uncle then tells Ernesto about his own coming wedding. Ernesto is dismayed, realizing he will never marry Norina, and begs his uncle to talk it over with Malatesta. When Don Pasquale reveals that not only does Malatesta approve of the idea, but has offered his own sister as the bride, Ernesto feels betrayed.

Norina laughs over a romantic novel, declaring that she is more capable of manipulating men. She receives a letter from Ernesto, which she later shows to Malatesta; it explains that Malatesta has betrayed them by arranging Don Pasquale’s marriage, and that Ernesto, disinherited, is leaving Europe. Malatesta reassures Norina and explains his plan: she is to be Sofronia and a phoney notary will perform the marriage ceremony. As soon as she becomes Don Pasquale’s bride, Sofronia will transform into the caricature of a nagging, extravagant wife.

Act II

A dejected Ernesto prepares for his departure. Malatesta arrives with ‘Sofronia’ – Norina in disguise – who is as shy and innocent as Malatesta promised. She admits that her only real pleasure lies in sewing. When she is unveiled, Don Pasquale demands that they...

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