AFTER a short, but pleasing overture, formed of the principal melodies of the opera and beginning with the theme of the serenade in the last Act, the curtain rises on a room in Don Pasquale’s house in Rome.
Don Pasquale (baritone) an old bachelor, economical, credulous and obstinate, but kind-hearted, is alone, in his dressing-gown and velvet cap. Looking at his watch, he reveals his impatience in a recitative. Dr. Malatesta (bass) for whom he is waiting, enters, to tell him he has found the very wife for him. He pretends that she is his sister, and describes her in such glowing terms in a romanza, Bella siccome, that Don Pasquale is inspired to sing of his burning ardour in a cavatina, Un foco insolito mi sento addosso, after which he bids Malatesta go and fetch her instantly. He must see her. Ernesto (tenor), Don Pasquale’s nephew, now enters, and in the following scene and duet, Prender moglie, Don Pasquale offers the hand of a certain lady to Ernesto, and with it an income; but the latter, true to his own love, refuses. Whereupon Don Pasquale announces his approaching marriage, disinherits his nephew, and orders him to leave his house. The amazed Ernesto advises his uncle to confer with Dr. Malatesta; but the Don replies, not only has he Malatesta% approval, but the lady is his sister. Ernesto is furious.
The scene changes to a room in the house of Norina, a young widow with whom Ernesto is in love and whom Don Pasquale dislikes, although he has never seen her. She enters, reading a romantic passage from a book. After singing her cavatina, Quel guardo il cavaliere, she rather amusingly congratulates herself upon possessing the arts of coquetry, and then begins to wonder what is the trap Dr. Malatesta is preparing for Don Pasquale. A servant interrupts her by bringing a letter. It is from Ernesto, and it gives her great distress.
Dr. Malatesta now enters joyfully; but his spirits are quelled by Norina’s saying, whatever it is, she will not play that trick on Don Pasquale, and hands him Ernesto’s letter, which he reads aloud. In it Ernesto abuses Dr. Malatesta, once his friend, and tells Norina that his uncle has disinherited him and driven him away from home, there-fore he must bid her farewell.
Malatesta consoles Norina ; he will arrange every-thing; Ernesto shall be in the plot, too; and then he tells Norina the whole story, how he tried in vain to dissuade Don Pasquale from any marriage, but, finding him deter-mined, he undertook the task of selecting a wife for him. He has pretended to offer his sister, a simple girl brought up in a convent. Norina shall play the part of this girl, and go through a mock marriage; his cousin has promised to be the Notary. The delighted Norina begins to re-hearse her rôle, and with such success that Malatesta is in ecstasies. This duet, Pronta io son, is always much admired.
AcT II. After a prelude, with a cornet-à-piston obbligato, the curtain rises in Don Pasquale’s house. Ernesto, alone, bewails his misfortunes and the loss of Norina in a recitative, Povero Ernesto, followed by an aria, Cerchero lontana terra. Seeing his uncle approaching, he leaves.
Don Pasquale enters, magnificently dressed and followed by a servant, to whom he gives orders to admit no one but Dr. Malatesta and his companion. The consciousness of his approaching marriage makes him vain, and as he is admiring himself, Dr. Malatesta enters with the veiled Norina. Malatesta motions Don Pasquale to hide.
Norina acts her part to perfection, talking shyly to Malatesta, and revealing her artless simplicity. Malatesta soon fetches Don Pasquale, and formally presents him. Don Pasquale brings three chairs, and they all sit down. Norina, now known as Sofronia, modestly gives her ideas of an industrious, economical, and simple life, delighting Don Pasquale. This terzetto, Via da brava, is very amusing. Finally, Don Pasquale persuades Malatesta to lift his sister’s veil; and, when her beauty is revealed, he is almost insane with joy. He wishes to have the marriage performed at once. Fortunately, this can be done, for Malatesta has brought the Notary with him and goes to fetch him in.
The servants bring a table, writing-materials, and a hand-bell. The Notary seats himself and writes at Dr. Malatesta’s dictation. Don Pasquale makes over all his belongings to Norina, and gives her full sway in his house-hold. The contract is signed during this quartette, but the Notary wishes another witness. Fortunately, Ernesto’s voice is heard at the door. Norina drops her pen in affright ; the Doctor is also alarmed, for Ernesto has not yet been told of the plot. Ignoring the company, Ernesto goes to bid Don Pasquale good-bye, and the latter demands that he shall be a witness to the marriage contract. Turning, Ernesto sees Norina and is about to spoil the whole game, when Dr. Malatesta introduces her as ” his sister Sofronia,” and (aside) bids Ernesto aid their strategem. Although unwilling, because he does not understand, Ernesto gives his signature. Immediately upon the signing of the contract, Norina’s manner changes. She refuses Don Pasquale’s embrace ; bids Ernesto remain to be her cavalier ; and even threatens to lay violent hands on Don Pasquale if he thwarts her. The Adagio of the quartette, Erimasto la impietrato, is most amusing. The old bachelor is alarmed; Ernesto begins to understand matters ; Norina is acting her part of Sofronia ; and Malatesta is delighted. Norina now rings the bell. When the three servants appear, she promises to double the salary of the Major-Domo, and bids him increase the servants to two dozen, buy two carriages and ten horses, and order a dinner for fifty. The astonished Don refuses to pay for all this, and quarrels with Norina. The latter manages to speak to Ernesto, and the Doctor devotes himself to Don Pasquale, warning the lovers to be careful, or they will yet spoil the game.
ACT III.The curtain rises on the same room. Gowns, hats, shawls, pelisses, laces, and band-boxes are lying on the chairs, table, and floor in great confusion. Don Pasquale is at a desk contemplating a pile of bills in a state of consternation. Ernesto and Malatesta are present. Several servants are in waiting ; a hairdresser passes out from Norina’s rooms.
The first lady’s maid brings the diamonds ; a servant announces the milliner, who enters with a pile of band-boxes, and is shown into Norina’s room ; the third lady’s maid, carrying a pelisse, a large bouquet, and smelling-bottles, orders a servant to put them in the carriage; the fourth lady’s maid brings a fan, gloves, and a veil ; the fifth lady’s maid gives an order about the horses ; and in the midst of the bustle Don Pasquale exclaims that the din will drive him mad. Left alone, he examines the accounts. Certainly he must remonstrate ; and here comes Norina now ! She is superbly dressed. A duet follows, Signorina, in tanta fretta vorrebbe dirmi. She tells him she is going to the theatre. He forbids and bars the way, whereupon she boxes his ears. He then tells her to go where she pleases ; he is furious. As Norina leaves, she purposely drops a letter. Don Pasquale reads it. He is shocked; a lover will meet her in the garden and announce his coming by a song ! Ringing the bell, Don Pasquale bids his servant go for Malatesta, and then he leaves the room.
A chorus of lady’s maids and other servants enters, comments on the situation, Che interminabile andiri e vieni, and leaves.
Dr. Malatesta and Ernesto now appear at the door, making plans for the scene to be enacted in the garden. Ernesto leaves, and Malatesta soliloquizes that the fact of his being sent for shows that the letter ‘regarding the nocturnal meeting has evidently had the desired effect ; but he is unhappy at seeing the approaching Don Pasquale so sad and changed. However, he continues to dissemble. Don Pasquale, much dejected, enters. They greet, and Don Pasquale’s remark, ” Better have given a thousand Norinas to Ernesto than to have such a state of things !” is as Dr. Malatesta says aside, ” worth knowing.” Don Pasquale tells Malatesta about the box on the ear, shows him the letter, and vows revenge. He has a scheme; and, begging his friend to be seated, he unfolds it. They shall go into the garden, with servants to surround the thicket, pounce upon the guilty lovers, and take them to the mayor. Malatesta objects, and suggests that they go unattended; but Don Pasquale will not agree to this. Then Malatesta suggests they play the part of eavesdroppers, and, if the wife’s treachery is proved, then he can order her out of the house. That will do ! Malatesta then says Don Pasquale must give him carte blanche to do and say in his name whatever he thinks fit. The Don accedes, and the duetto is ended by Don Pasquale singing that ” his little wife is caught in a trap,” while Malatesta sings, ” the Don is caught in a trap.”
The scene changes to a garden, into which steps lead from Don Pasquale’s house ; on the right, a summerhouse. Ernesto sings his serenade, Corn’ i gentil, with guitar accompaniment and a tambourine behind the scenes, with chorus from within a favourite number, written in the suave Italian style.
Norina steals cautiously from the summer-house, and they sing a sentimental nocturne, Tornamia dir che m’ ami. At its conclusion, Ernesto half fears the end of this trick, but Norina reassures him. With a dark lantern, Don Pasquale and Dr. Malatesta creep through the the garden. Ernesto hides. Don Pasquale throws the light full on Norina’s face : she screams for help. In reply to her pretended husband’s question, Norina answers : “No one was here.” While Don Pasquale and Malatesta search the shrubbery, Ernesto slips into the house.
Don Pasquale orders her to leave his home. “The house is mine,” replies Norina, “and here I’ll stay.” Don Pasquale utters an exclamation. Malatesta reminds him of his promise to let him do as he pleases, and, in an aside, tells Norina to keep up her rôle, then aloud; ” Sister, I want to save you from a blow. You had better leave, for another bride is coming.” Don Pasquale listens with great interest. ” Another bride !” exclaims Norina, “and whose bride, pray ? ” ” Ernesto’s : her name is Norina,” answers Malatesta. ” What ! that coquettish widow ! ” exclaims Norina. ” Norina and myself under the same roof! Never ! I’ll leave it.” Don Pasquale is delighted, and Malatesta says, ” I see no other way out of it ; either Ernesto and Norina must marry, or this woman will not leave you.” He then calls Ernesto, who enters from the house, and tells him that his uncle consents to let him marry Norina, and will give him an income of four thousand crowns. Ernesto thanks Don Pasquale. Malatesta tells the latter that there is no time to be lost, and begs him to say yes. Norina interrupts with opposition. “1 agree,” says Don Pasquale, and bids Ernesto go for Norina at once. “No need,” answers Malatesta, ” she is here.” Explanations follow. The Don at first is furious; but Malatesta tells him he wanted to prevent his marrying ; and he becomes good-humoured at the thought that he is free. He pardons them all, and embraces Ernesto and Norina. They all join in a rondo, La morale è molto bella, in which Norina sings a solo, the theme of which is, ” He who when old takes a wife, will get nothing but trouble.”