Comic Opera in three acts by Gaetano Donizetti Text after “Ser Marcantonio” by Cammerano
The wealthy old bachelor Don Pasquale desires to marry his only nephew to a rich and noble lady; but finding a hindrance in Ernesto’s love for another, he decides to punish his headstrong nephew by entering himself into marriage and thus disinheriting Ernesto.
His physician Malatesta, Ernesto’s friend, pretends to have discovered a suitable partner for him in the person of his (Malatesta’s) sister, an “ingenue”, educated in a convent and utterly ignorant of the ways of the world.
Don Pasquale maliciously communicates his intentions to the young widow Norina, telling her to distrust Malatesta. The latter, however, has been beforehand with him, and easily persuades Norina to play the part of his (Malatesta’s) sister, and the endeavor, by the beauty of her person and the modesty of her demeanor, to gain the old man’s affections. Should she succeed in doing so, Don Pasquale and Norina are to go through a mock form of marriage – a notary, in the person of a cousin, named Carlo, has already been gained for the purpose – after which Norina, by her obstinacy, extravagance, capriciousness, and coquetry, is to make the old man repent of his infatuation and ready to comply with their wishes.
Urged on by her love for Ernesto, Norina consents to play the part assigned to her, and the charming simplicity of her manners, her modesty and loveliness so captivate the old man that he falls into the trap and makes her an offer of his hand. The marriage takes place, and one witness failing to appear, Ernesto, who happens to be near, and who is aware of the plot, is requested to take his place. Besides appointing Norina heiress of half his wealth, Don Pasquale at once makes her absolute mistress of his fortune. Having succeeded in attaining her aim, Norina throws aside her mask, and by her self will, prodigality, and waywardness drives her would be husband to despair. She squanders his money, visits the theater in the very day of their marriage, ignoring the presence of her husband in such a manner that he wishes himself in his grave, or rid of the termagant, who has destroyed the peace of his life. The climax is reached on his discovery among the accounts, all giving proof of his wife’s reckless extravagance, a billet-doux pleading for a clandestine meeting in his own garden. Malatesta is summoned and cannot help feeling remorse on beholding the wan and haggard appearance of his friend. He recommends prudence, advises Don Pasquale to assist, himself unseen, at the proposed interview, and then to drive the guilty wife from the house. The jealous husband, though frankly confessing the folly he had committed in taking so young a wife, at first refuses to listen to Malatesta’s counsel, and determines to surprise the lovers and have them brought before the judge. Finally, however, he suffers himself to be dissuaded and leaves the matter in Malatesta’s hands.
In the last scene the lovers meet, but Ernesto escapes on his uncle’s approach, who is sorely disappointed at having to listen to the bitter reproaches of his supposed wife, instead of being able to turn her out of doors.
Meanwhile Malatesta arrives, summons Ernesto, and in his uncle’s name gives his (Don Pasquale’s) consent to Ernesto’s marriage with Norina, promising her a splendid dowry.
Don Pasquale’s wife, true to the part she has undertaken to play, of course opposes this arrangement; and Don Pasquale too happy to be able to thwart his wife, hastens to give his consent, telling Ernesto to bring his bride. His dismay on discovering that his own wife, whom he has only known under the name of Sophronia, and his nephew’s bride are one and the same person, may be easily imagined. His rage an disappointment are, however, somewhat diminished by the reflection that he will no longer have to suffer from the whims of the young wife who had inveigled him into the ill assorted marriage, and he at length consents, giving the happy couple his blessing.
Considered as representative of the modern Italian opera, this work, one of Donizetti’s latest compositions, properly takes a high rank among those of its class. It affords excellent opportunities for vocal artists, and its bright music and witty text render it particularly enjoyable when well performed.