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An opera in three acts, with a libretto written in collaboration by Gaetano Donizetti and Giacomo Ruffini, based upon an earlier work by Angelo Anelli, "Ser Marc' Antonio."
January 3, 1843.
Act One is preceded by an overture.
Don Pasquale's Room
Don Pasquale paces the floorboards of his living room, contemplating the shocking decision he is about the land on his sole heir and nephew, Ernesto. It is early in the nineteenth century, in a wealthy section of Rome and Don Pasquale, the aging bachelor, has made the decision to marry. This announcement will have resounding consequences for poor Ernesto. Dr. Malatesta enters with a discovery: he has found a bride for the lucky Pasquale, as the aria says -- "Bella siccome un angelo," lovely as an angel.
She just happens to be Malatesta's sister. Malatesta is ordered to bring her at once, despite his warnings that Pasquale proceed slowly. The doctor departs as Don Pasquale chortles about his potential new role as the father of six!
Ernesto appears at the door, and his Uncle quickly informs the young man he would like him to wed a wealthy lady of Roman social standing. Ernesto loves only his sweetheart: Norina. He patently refuses the arrangement. In a pique of anger, Uncle Pasquale threatens to disown Ernesto, and then blurts out the news of his own wedding plans. The duet which follows attests to Ernesto's misery and Pasquale's gleefulness. Ernesto leaves with a request that his Uncle discuss all of this with Dr. Malatesta. He has, the Uncle replies. In fact, Malatesta has offered the hand of his own sister. More despondent than ever, Ernesto now surmises his only ally, Dr. Malatesta, has turned against him as well.
The plot thickens. In her room, lovely Norina sings about love and the romantic novel she has just read, in the aria "quel guardo, il cavliere." A letter arrives from (of course) Ernesto. And Dr. Malatesta arrives just as Norina finishes the last paragraph. The doctor boasts of his plan to unite the young couple, but Norina shows him Ernesto's despairing message.
The young man is to be disinherited, the letter explains, and their plans to marry forever postponed. He even proposes to leave Europe altogether! Nonsense, says Malatesta. His strategy is airtight. They will pass Norina off to Don Pasquale as the proposed bride, Sofronia. [Sofronia actually resides in a convent.] Cousin Carlotta, a Notary, will perform a phony marriage ceremony and then Norina will proceed to provide Pasquale with a wedded life of complete misery. He will be screaming for an annulment! The scene closes on a joyous duet.
With the dramatic "Cerchero Iontana terra," Ernesto vows to leave for distant parts and live out his life in unending sorrow and loneliness. Enter Pasquale, admiring his "trim" figure. Well, not bad for a fellow of seventy. Malatesta and his shy, veiled "sister Sofronia" arrive. As the two men admire her feminine charms, she feigns dizziness and seems about to faint. Pasquale is impressed with her lovely form and hopes aloud that her face matches the rest. When Norina finally lifts her veil, Pasquale falls back, overwhelmed. He immediately proposes and demands a wedding contract on the spot. The obliging Malatesta disappears in search of a Notary and a counterfeit contract is quickly produced. Ernesto is called upon to act as witness. Not knowing Malatesta's plan, he is at first offended. When Malatesta takes the young man aside to explain, Ernesto consents to participate in this not entirely convincing scenario.
The marriage ceremony completed, chaos ensues. The timid Norina shoves Pasquale away with the authority of an angry she-bear. Then she begins a household campaign of expenditure to bankrupt him in short order. She wants a new carriage, new furniture, younger more attractive servants. And, while they're at it, why not double the servant's salaries for heaven sake? She can't spend enough fast enough. But, of course, there's always tomorrow. Ernesto and Malatesta shake hands, as Don Pasquale bemoans what will obviously be a gruesome future with his new "wife."
At the Pasquale household, new deliveries of finery and furnishing continue to arrive as the poor Don bewails his financial doom. Norina appears with the news she will be leaving for the opera. Pasquale is not invited since, "Old men should be in bed early."
She "accidentally" drops a note to the floor which Pasquale reads when she has departed. The letter invites Norina to a romantic rendezvous in the garden with an unnamed lover. Pasquale nearly collapses with anger and departs for his room.
Servants pass busily to and fro through the living room, gossiping merrily about the free flow of money in the household. As the servants leave, Malatesta and Ernesto appear to discuss the "rendezvous." They agree, as soon as Pasquale enters the garden, Ernesto will disappear, undetected. Pasquale now returns to the living room and, showing Malatesta the infamous letter left behind by Norina, explains how much he wishes he had let Ernesto marry whomever he pleased, thereby avoiding his own bankruptcy!
Malatesta acts stricken by the entire turn of affairs. He advises Pasquale to catch his unfaithful wife with her lover and expose her infidelity then and there. They'll insist she give this man up, Malatesta proposes. Such treatment is too good for her, Pasquale protests. Well, they will see what consequences they can fashion to suit the occasion, Malatesta says.
The scene opens on the wonderful tenor aria "Com' e gentil." On an idyllic spring evening in the garden, Ernesto sings of his love for Norina and she soon joins him in the romantic duet, "Tornami a dir che m'ami."
As Pasquale and Malatesta approach, Ernesto quickly escapes. Norina feigns horror at being caught in an assignation with her lover, but also informs Pasquale that she is, after all, in her own garden. Malatesta convinces the flabbergasted Don to let him handle this woman. He informs her the widow Norina is about to marry Ernesto, provided Pasquale approves -- which he, of course, does. Ernesto is called out to hear the wonderful news. When Norina objects about this "other woman's" appearance in "her" household, Pasquale insists -- no demands -- that the wedding take place immediately. He asks to see the new bride.
Of course, she is already there, and Malatesta explains the whole scheme. The disoriented old man denounces the couple until they fall on their knees before him. Finally, he forgives them and offers his blessing, as the four launch into a quartet proclaiming the foolishness of old men who court young women.
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