23 Mar 2006

DONIZETTI: Don Pasquale

Don Pasquale, Dramma buffo in three acts.

Music by Gaetano Donizetti. Libretto by Giovanni Ruffini and the composer after Angelo Anelli’s libretto for Stefano Pavesi’s Ser Marcantonio (1810), which was derived from Epicœne or The Silent Woman by Ben Jonson (1609).

First Performance: 3 January 1843 at Théâtre Italien, Paris.

Principal Characters:

Don Pasquale, an elderly bachelor Bass
Dr. Malatesta, his physician Baritone
Ernesto, his nephew Tenor
Norina (Sofronia), a youthful widow and Ernesto’s beloved Soprano
A Notary, Malatesta’s cousin, Carlino Bass

Time and Place: Mid-19th Century Rome at Don Pasquale’s villa and adjacent garden.


Act I

Don Pasquale is an elderly and rich landowner. His nephew, Ernesto, will be his heir, if he marries a woman chosen by Don Pasquale. But Ernesto loves Norina, a young, attractive and vivacious widow, who is anything but rich. Ernesto refuses to obey to his uncle, who decides to disinherit him and to find a wife for himself so that he may sire an heir. Doctor Malatesta, Don Pasquale's friend, devises a plan to help the two young people. He suggests to Don Pasquale his sister, Sofronia, as a wife, expounding upon her dowry. Don Pasquale is elated and immediately ejects Ernesto from his house. Meanwhile, Malatesta instructs Norina to impersonate Sofronia and to marry Don Pasquale in a mock wedding ceremony. She is then to turn into a virago, thereby reducing Don Pasquale to desperation.

Act II

Ernesto, unaware of the plan of Malatesta, is desperate. He resolves to leave for foreign parts. Malatesta and Norina (wearing a veil to disguise herself as Sofronia) arrive. Don Pasquale is immediately enamored, which only increases when she lifts the veil. They sign a marriage contract before Malatesta's cousin posing as a notary. The agreement gives her half of Don Pasquale's possessions. Ernesto arrives and is appalled; but, Malatesta draws him aside and explains things. Sofronia, until then timid and docile, changes her behavior. She becomes arrogant and temperamental; and, she orders extravagant expenditures that terrorize Don Pasquale.


Sofronia increases her tantrums. When she slaps Don Pasquale, he demands a divorce. She then connives to make him believe she has a lover. Exasperated, Don Pasquale asks Malatesta to help him. Malatesta puts his scheme to Ernesto, who is to pose as the lover of Sofronia. That evening in Don Pasquale's garden, Ernesto arrives and sings a serenade to Sofronia. They then both sing a love duet. Seeing this from a distance, Don Pasquale erupts. At the suggestion of Malatesta, he declares that Ernesto will marry Norina, who will thereupon become the mistress of the household. Don Pasquale is convinced by Malatesta that this will result in Sofronia leaving his household. At this point, the plot is revealed. Relieved that he is not married to the diabolical Sofronia, Don Pasquale forgives all and consents to the marriage of Ernesto and Norina.

Click here for the complete libretto.