Music with Ease > 19th Century Italian Opera > Don Pasquale (Donizetti) - Synopsis
Don Pasquale -
An Opera by Gaetano Donizetti
Opera, in three acts, by Donizetti; words by Salvatore Cammarano, adapted from his earlier libretto, "Ser Marc Antonio," which Stefano Pavesi had set to music in 1813. Produced, Paris, January 4, 1843. Théâtre des Italiens. London, June 30, 1843. New York, March 9, 1846, in English; 1849, in Italian, revived for Bonci (with di Pasquali, Scotti, and Pini-Corsi) at the New Theatre, December 23, 1909; given also at the Metropolitan Opera House with Sembrich as Norina.
DON PASQUALE, an old bachelor
DR. MALATESTA, his friend
ERNESTO, nephew of Don Pasquale
NORINA, a young widow, affianced to Ernesto
Valets, chambermaids, majordomo, dress-makers, hairdresser.
Time: Early nineteenth century.
"Don Pasquale" concerns an old man about to marry. He also is wealthy. Though determined himself to have a wife, on the other hand he is very angry with his nephew, Ernesto, for wishing to marry, and threatens to disinherit him. Ernesto is greatly disturbed by these threats. So is his lady-love, the sprightly young widow, Norina, when he reports them to her.
Pasquales friend, Dr. Malatesta, not being able to dissuade him from marriage, pretends to acquiesce in it. He proposes that his sister shall be the bride, and describes her as a timid, naïve, ingenious girl, brought up, he says, in a convent. She is, however, none other than Norina, the clever young widow, who is in no degree related to Malatesta. She quickly enters into the plot, which involves a mock marriage with Don Pasquale. An interview takes place. The modest graces of the supposed convent girl charm the old man. The marriage -- a mock ceremony, of course -- is hurriedly celebrated, so hurriedly that there is no time to inform the distracted Ernesto that the proceedings are bogus.
Norina now displays toward Don Pasquale an ungovernable temper. Moreover she spends money like water, and devotes all her energies to nearly driving the old man crazy. When he protests, she boxes his ears. He is on the point of suicide. Then at last Malatesta lets him know that he has been duped. Notary and contract are fictitious. He is free. With joy he transfers to Ernesto his conjugal burden -- and an income.
Act I plays in a room in Don Pasquales house and later in a room in Norinas, where she is reading a romance. She is singing "Quel guardo" (Glances so soft) and "So anch io la virtu magica" (I too, thy magic virtues know) in which she appears to be echoing in thought what she has been reading about in the book.
The duet, in which she and Malatesta agree upon the plot -- the "duet of the rehearsal" -- is one of the sprightly numbers of the score.
Act II is in a richly furnished salon of Don Pasquales house. This is the scene of the mock marriage, of Norinas assumed display of temper and extravagance, Don Pasquales distraction, Ernestos amazement and enlightenment, and Malatestas amused co-operation. In this act occur the duet of the box on the ears, and the quartet, which begins with Pasquales "Son ardito" (I am betrayed). It is the finale of the act and considered a masterpiece.
Act III is in two scenes, the first in Don Pasquales house, where everything is in confusion; the second in his garden, where Ernesto sings to Norina the beautiful serenade, "Com e gentil" (Soft beams the light).
Don Pasquale, who has suspected Norina of having a rendezvous in the garden, rushes out of concealment with Malatesta. But Ernesto is quick to hide, Norina pretends no one has been with her. This is too much for Don Pasquale, and Malatesta now makes it the occasion for bringing about the dénouement, and secures the old mans most willing consent to the marriage between Ernesto and Norina.
When the opera had its original production in Paris, Lablache was Don Pasquale, Mario Ernesto, Tamburini Malatesta, and Grisi Norina. Notwithstanding this brilliant cast, the work did not seem to be going well at the rehearsals. After one of these, Donizetti asked the music publisher, Dormoy, to go with him to his lodgings. There he rummaged among a lot of manuscripts until, finding what he was looking for, he handed it to Dormoy.
"There," he said, "give this to Mario and tell him to sing it in the last scene in the garden as a serenade to Norina."
When the opera was performed Mario sang it, while Lablache, behind the scenes, played an accompaniment on the lute. It was the serenade. This was there introduced into the opera that air to which, more than any other feature of the work, it owes its occasional resuscitation.
A one-act comedy opera by Donizetti," "Il Campanello di Notte" (The Night Bell) was produced in Naples in 1836. it would hardly be worth referring to but for the fact that it is in the repertoire of the Society of American Singers, who gave it, in an English version by Sydney Rosenfeld, at the Lyceum Theatre, New York, May 7, 1917. This little work turns on the attempts of a lover, who has been thrown over, to prevent his successful rival, an apothecary, from going to bed on the night of his marriage. He succeeds by adopting various disguises, ringing the night bell, and asking for medicine. In the American first performance David Bispham was the apothecary, called in the adaptation, Don Hannibal Pistacchio. Miss Gates, the Serafina, interpolated "O luce di quest anima, " from "Linda di Chamounix." Mr. Reiss was Enrico, the lover.