Don Pasquale is a drama buffo opera in three Acts by the Italian composer Gaetano Donizetti, who is also known for another comic opera: L’elisir d’amore, as well as for his historical operas Lucia di Lammermoor — which some people may not know is based on a true story, as well as Anna Bolena and Maria Stuarda. Don Pasquale was composed in 1842 with a libretto by Giovanni Ruffini and Donizetti, drawing upon the libretto by Angelo Anelli for composer Stefano Pavesi’s opera Ser Marcantonio from 1810.
The premiere of Don Pasquale took place in Paris at the Théâtre Italien on 3 January 1843. The setting for the opera is the villa and garden of Don Pasquale in Rome, and the home of his nephew Ernesto’s beloved, a poor young widow named Norina.
Act I begins with our introduction to Don Pasquale himself, an older man whose only heir is a nephew and who wishes to marry and sire a son to pass on his inheritance to. He is displeased with his nephew Ernesto and wishes to disinherit him because he considers Ernesto’s attachment to the widow Norina to be unreasonable.
Don Pasquale calls in his physician, Malatesta, to make sure his health is good enough for this new venture, and Malatests cooking up a scheme, suggests that his own sister, Sofronia would be a good match for Don Pasquale. Upon entering, Ernesto is taken aback by his uncle’s plan and by Malatesta’s part in it, for he had considered Malatesta a friend. He also learns that if he himself marries, he will be expected to leave the house. The scene switches to the home of Norina, who is reading a romance. Malatesta enters and confides his plan, in which she will play Sofronia, and ultimately be able to marry Ernesto.
Act II opens back at Don Pasquale’s house, where Ernesto wanders outside, imagining his future exile and losing Norina. After he leaves, Malatesta brings Sofronia, with a veil to meet Don Pasquale. Norina pretends to be afraid as Don Pasquale questions her about her character, learning that she has simple tastes and lives a frugal life. A supposed notary, actually a cousin of Malatesta, enters and draws up a marriage agreement which assures Sofronia control of all Don Pasquale’s possessions.
As the document is being signed and the notary is asking for a second witness, Ernesto comes to say goodbye. He recognizes Norina, and not being in on the trick, is horrified, thinking that she is marrying his uncle. Malatesta catches him and explains. When the agreement has been finalized, Sofronia suddenly changes character becoming shrewish, insulting, demanding, and greedy. Don Pasquale is amazed.
In Act III, we see Sofronia continuing to spend lavishly and treat Don Pasquale rudely. He threatens divorce, and though as Norina she sympathizes with him, she continues the plot, purposely dropping a note that suggests that she has an assignation in the garden at night.
Don Pasquale summons Malatesta to help him cope and they plot to catch the lovers. In the garden, Ernesto in disguise serenades Sofronia. Don Pasquale and Malatesta come out from behind a bush and Don Pasquale orders Sofronia out of his house. She refuses to leave. Malatesta adds to the threat, telling Sofronia that Ernesto’s bride Norina is to become mistress of the house the next day. Sofronia says she would rather leave than live under those conditions. Malatesta convinces Don Pasquale that the only way to get rid of Sofronia is for Norina and Ernesto to wed that very evening. Seemingly having little choice, Don Pasquale agrees. Everything is revealed, Don Pasquale accepts the situation, and all ends happily.