I really enjoyed this Opera Buffa classic.
I agree entirely with Paul Pelkonen when he writes:
The Metropolitan Opera's revival of Don Pasquale featured the spitfire soprano of Anna Netrebko. While the Russian beauty is the main reason to catch one of these performances, she is a key component of a fine comic ensemble that delivers the opera buffa goods.
You can see what Pelkonen means from the video below:
To quote Pelkinen again:
In the title role, John del Carlo gave a performance that blended physical comedy and vocal athleticism. His slow, gouty gait and moans of woe elicted sympathy for the poor old Don ...
He was ably partnered with Mariusz Kwiecien, an athletic baritone as the conniving Dr. Malatesta. His comic fencing with Ms. Netrebko established their relationship quickly in the eyes of the audience.
The photo shows Dr Malatesta (Kwiecien) and Don Pasqual (del Carlo):
Tenor Matthew Polenzanai may not have the name recognition of some of the other fine bel canto singers working today. But he is a fine, comic actor with a pleasing lyric tenor voice. He sang the long vocal lines of Ernesto's two big arias with impressive control.
The photo below shows Norina (Netrebko) and Ernesto (Polenzanai) during the Love Duet from the final scene in the opera.
And here they sing it:
And here is the finale of the opera:
For more reviews see: here, here and here.
Thisis a summary of the plot as described at this site (follow the link to find photographs of the opera accompanying the plot description):
Act I : A room in Don Pasquale’s villa in Rome, mid eighteenth century. Pompous old Don Pasquale is furious at his nephew and heir Ernesto. Don Pasquale found Ernesto a wealthy bride, but Ernesto is in love with beautiful Norina, and won’t look at another woman. Don Pasquale thinks Norina isn’t rich enough for Ernesto. He’s ordered his nephew to leave her—or lose his inheritance forever.
As the opera begins, Don Pasquale announces that he’s tired of his nephew’s disobedience. He’s going to get married and father some brand-new heirs. That will show Ernesto! As luck would have it, family friend Doctor Malatesta knows the perfect bride: his own sister Sofronia. She’s beautiful, young, and modest—in fact, she’s hardly ever ventured outside of her convent school. Pasquale feels younger already; he can barely wait to start his new family.
Ernesto shows up, and Don Pasquale offers him one last chance to give up Norina and keep his inheritance. Ernesto, of course, refuses. “Well then, start looking for somewhere else to live!” cackles Don Pasquale. He announces that he’s kicking Ernesto out of the house, and getting married himself.
Astounded Ernesto thinks the old man is joking; he suggests that Don Pasquale ask Doctor Malatesta for advice. Pasquale smugly informs him that he’s marrying Malatesta’s sister. Ernesto is crushed.
Scene ii : Later that day, at Norina’s house. Alone in her room, Norina reads a book about chivalrous love. She laughs to herself; she too knows how to use a fleeting smile and a deceitful tear to capture a man’s heart. She receives a letter from Ernesto, informing her that Don Pasquale is getting married. The now-destitute Ernesto has no choice but to seek his fortune overseas. He will leave Rome that very day.
Norina is intensely worried—until Doctor Malatesta shows up with a plan that’s sure to bring Don Pasquale back to his senses. Norina, who’s never met the old man, will pretend to be Malatesta’s demure sister Sofronia. She’ll “marry” Don Pasquale in a fake ceremony. Once they’re “married,” “Sofronia” will drive the old man to the brink of insanity; he’ll be forced to give her whatever she wants just to get rid of her.
Doctor Malatesta’s next task is to teach Norina to act like a “sweet simple young thing,” but Norina proves that she should be the one giving lessons. Malatesta applauds her skill; he knows it won’t be long until the fireworks go off!
Act II : Back at Don Pasquale’s house, Ernesto is feeling very sorry for himself. He’s been disowned, his friend Malatesta proved to be an enemy in disguise—and it looks like he might lose Norina forever. He exits in despair.
Enter Don Pasquale, dressed in splendid wedding clothes. Doctor Malatesta leads in “Sofronia.” Already in character, Norina plays the part of a bashful convent maiden to perfection. Pasquale is delighted with the demure and submissive young girl; he’s as nervous as a schoolboy around her. He agrees to give her half his property, and to obey her every word.
During the mock marriage ceremony (conducted by Malatesta’s cousin, disguised as a notary), Ernesto bursts in to bid his uncle farewell. He stops in his tracks when he sees Norina. Malatesta hastily pulls Ernesto aside and persuades him not to make a scene: he should just enjoy the comedy he’s about to witness.
The instant the phony marriage contract is signed, “Sofronia” drops her naïve sweetness. She refuses to embrace Pasquale, and even threatens to slap him if he doesn’t behave. Ernesto begins to laugh. Furious, Pasquale orders him to leave at once. “Sofronia” icily overrules the old man, and commands Ernesto to stay. Pasquale yells to Malatesta that she has changed, but Malatesta pretends to be completely dumbfounded.
“Sofronia” doubles the servants’ wages. She orders a complete redecoration of the house, plus a new wardrobe for herself and a whole stable full of new horses. Ernesto finally understands that it was love alone that prompted Norina to play this part. The nagging “Sofronia” and the stubborn Pasquale fight tooth and nail until the doctor urges the furious old groom to go to bed.
Act III : Don Pasquale’s house has been transformed. Expensive hats, gowns, and furs are scattered everywhere. Scores of servants rush back and forth as Don Pasquale sorts through a mountain of bills. “Sofronia” flounces past on her way to the theater. When Pasquale forbids her to leave the house, she simply boxes his ears and saunters past him. Humiliated, the old man warns her that he’ll seek a divorce, but his words fall on deaf ears.
On her way out, she “accidentally” drops a letter, and Pasquale, of course, reads it. It’s a love note, inviting “Sofronia” to meet an anonymous lover that night in the garden. Eager to catch his wife red-handed, Don Pasquale sends for Doctor Malatesta.
Later that night. Don Pasquale staggers in, a shadow of his former self. His marriage is wreaking havoc on his nerves; now he wishes that he had just let Ernesto marry Norina in the first place. He shows Doctor Malatesta “Sofronia’s” letter. The Doctor suggests that they surprise “Sofronia” with her lover and force her to agree to a divorce.
Scene ii : That evening, Ernesto serenades Norina outside the little gate to Don Pasquale’s garden. Norina creeps down to meet him, and they sing a beautiful love duet.
Hearing footsteps, Ernesto disappears into the shadows. Don Pasquale and Doctor Malatesta pop out of the bushes and shine lanterns on “Sofronia,” but can’t seem to find her lover.
Don Pasquale sternly orders “Sofronia” to leave his house, but she refuses. After all, the house is hers too! Pasquale is beginning to think he’ll never get rid of her. Then Doctor Malatesta tells “Sofronia” that another woman may soon marry into her household – Ernesto’s Norina. “Never!” says “Sofronia”; she would rather move out than share her house with trashy Norina. Pasquale is delighted—finally, a way to free himself from the monster wife!
Photo Copyright © Beth Bergman 2006
Doctor Malatesta calls Ernesto out into the open and tells him that his uncle will allow him to marry Norina after all. Don Pasquale begs Ernesto to find Norina as soon as possible—he can’t stand “Sofronia” another second.
Malatesta finally reveals that “Sofronia” was Norina all along; the Don’s marriage was a sham. The real Sofronia never left her convent school. The Doctor gently explains that tricking Don Pasquale was the only way to keep him from actually marrying someone else. Don Pasquale considers humiliation a small price to pay for getting rid of the horrid “Sofronia.” He gives the lovers his blessing, and as the curtain falls all join together to sing the moral of the story: old bachelors should always act their age.