Opera Scotland

Don Pasquale

Music
Gaetano Donizetti (born Bergamo, 29 November 1797; died Bergamo, 8 April 1848)

Text
Giovanni Ruffini and the composer.

Source
Libretto Ser Marc’ Antonio (1810) by Angelo Anelli for Pavesi's opera, not in itself an original idea.

Premières
First performance: Paris (Théâtre-Italien), 3 January 1843.
First UK performance: London (Her Majesty’s Theatre, Haymarket), 1 June 1843.
First performance in Scotland: Edinburgh (Theatre Royal), 8 February 1856.
Scottish Opera première: Glasgow (King’s Theatre), 12 September 1972.

Background
Donizetti came from a poor background but his musical talent was recognised early. While Rossini was still active, until 1829, Donizetti maintained a busy career touring Italy as a jobbing opera composer. His first international success came in 1830 with Anna Bolena, by which time he had composed nearly half his output of around seventy works. His operas were mostly romantic tragedies, but he had great success with a small number of comic pieces. Don Pasquale is the last of these, composed after his conquest of Paris, and only a few months before a serious mental breakdown forced him to stop working. The original cast was a fabulous one of Grisi (Norina), Mario (Ernesto), Tamburini (Malatesta) and Lablache (Pasquale).

The opera is brilliantly composed throughout, starting with, for Donizetti, an unusually elaborate and delightful overture. The subject is a traditional plot, with an elderly bachelor being tricked into allowing his heir to marry the girl of his choice. A previous example might be Ben Jonson’s play Epicoene, or the Silent Woman (1609), used later by Richard Strauss for an opera, Die schweigsame Frau. Donizetti’s genius ensures that all four principal characters are rounded, three-dimensional humans who never quite forfeit the audience’s sympathy even when their behaviour seems quite unattractive.

Characters
Don Pasquale, a wealthy, elderly bachelor (bass)
Malatesta, his medical adviser (baritone)
Ernesto, Pasquale’s nephew and heir (tenor)
Norina, a young widow, Malatesta’s cousin (soprano)
A Notary (bass)

Plot Summary
Pasquale is angry with his nephew because of Ernesto’s refusal to marry the bride chosen for him and his wish to marry Norina, who is considered to be unsuitable. He decides to marry and disinherit the nephew. Malatesta recommends his own sister, straight from the convent. This turns out to be Norina, who is Malatesta’s cousin. A false marriage is performed by another of Malatesta’s relations in disguise, and Norina is instantly transformed into a viper who orders her new husband about, spends his money freely, and makes him thoroughly miserable. When the conspiracy is finally revealed he quickly agrees to reinstate Ernesto and let him marry as he chooses.

RECORDINGS

EMI (2 CDs) Sung in Italian Recorded 1987

Conductor: Riccardo Muti
Philharmonia Orchestra
Mirella Freni (Norina), Gösta Winbergh (Ernesto),
Leo Nucci (Malatesta), Sesto Bruscantini (Pasquale).

Riccardo Muti’s career has rarely taken him in the direction of opera buffa of the bel canto period. His explorations in that area have tended more towards the serious side of that art. However Don Pasquale was the opera of his Salzburg debut, when he was very young, and it is clearly a piece for which he has some affection. Right from the start of the wonderful overture he seems to be conducting with a permanent smile. The cast is nearly ideal. Leo Nucci is a bit dry-voiced and stiff as Malatesta, and perhaps it is a shame that Freni did not record Norina earlier. But Sesto Bruscantini is a natural at this kind of role, and at the end of his career he puts a world of experience into his interpretation. Anyone who knows of the tragically short-lived Swedish tenor Gösta Winbergh only from the heavier roles (such as Florestan in Fidelio and Walther in Meistersinger) which he sang later on will be astonished at the ease with which he sings such a light role as Ernesto.

RCA (2 CDs) Sung in Italian Recorded 1993

Conductor: Roberto Abbado
Munich Radio Orchestra
Eva Mei (Norina), Frank Lopardo (Ernesto), Thomas Allen (Malatesta), Renato Bruson (Pasquale).

Roberto Abbado has gradually built up a successful career as an opera conductor and gives a thoroughly stylish performance of Donizetti’s late masterpiece. The cast is well balanced, with Thomas Allen superb as Malatesta, and Renato Bruson showing an unexpected talent for comedy. The others give thoroughly enjoyable performances.

EMI and others (2 CDs) Sung in Italian Recorded 1932

Conductor: Carlo Sabajno
Orchestra of La Scala Milan
Adelaide Saraceni (Norina), Tito Schipa (Ernesto), Afro Poli (Malatesta), Carlo Badini (Pasquale).

Can it possibly be that an opera recording made eighty years ago can still be competitive? Of course the recording quality is not up to the standard we now expect. But that is not the point. The reason why this set remains fascinating, and probably the reason why it was made in the first place, is the great Tito Schipa. His performance really does repay the effort involved in searching out a copy of this. Saraceni is, of course, slightly shrill, but that is probably the effect of the recording. The others are fine, and Carlo Sabajno shows why he was so highly regarded between the wars.

The Cast

Carlo
 Malatesta's cousin, disguised as a Notary
Don Pasquale
 a wealthy, elderly bachelor
Ernesto
 Pasquale's nephew
Malatesta
 Pasquale's doctor and friend
Norina
 a young widow
Servant
 

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