Music: Gaetano Donizetti
Libretto is written by the composer in cooperation with Giacomo Ruffini after Angelo Anelli’s libretto for Stefano Pavesi’s opera Il Dottor Antonio
Music Director and Conductor: Dmitri Jurowski
Stage Director: Vyacheslav Starodubtsev
Assistant Director: Igor Bondarenko
Lighting Design: Igor Yakushev
Don Pasquale, old bachelor: Alexey Laushkin, Nikolai Loskutkin, Andrei Triller
Dr. Malatesta, his friend: Maxim Golovachev, Gury Guryev, Alexei Zelenkov, Alexey Shapovalov
Ernesto, Pasquale’s nephew: Andrei Denisov, Vladimir Kuchin
Norina, a youthful widow: Diana Belozor, Daria Shuvalova
Notary: Evgeny Kozyrev, Yury Komov
*Cast might change
Gaetano Donizetti’s most exquisite creation, a true crown jewel of the comic opera heritage, Don Pasquale, premiered on 3 January 1843, almost 180 years ago by the Théâtre-Italien at the Salle Ventadour in Paris with great success. The rumor runs that the composer created this phenomenal piece in about ten days. Donizetti always worked fast – 47 operas in 27 years – but in this case he outdid himself.
There was a rush and a peculiar story about the libretto too. In Autumn 1842, during the preparations of Donizetti’s operatic melodrama semiserio Linda di Chamounix, the director of the company commissioned a rush job – another opera buffa for the top-class cast of the production: Giulia Grisi, Antonio Tamburini, Luigi Lablache. It was decided to pick the libretto of Pavesi’s Il Dottor Antonio dated 1810, which had already been running at La Scala. The libretto of Donizetti’s masterpiece-to-be was amended by the Italian writer Giovanni Ruffini.
The first night was a huge success. Critics mentioned that Don Pasquale became the most prominent work ever written for the Théâtre-Italien. Certain numbers were demanded as an encore, singers and the maestro made multiple curtain calls. The show was on for almost three months. Also a special Malatesta / Don Pasquale duet (Cheti, cheti, immantinente) was written specially for a performance in Vienna, 1843.
The first time Don Pasquale was staged in Russia on 6 February 1845. It was performed by the Italian Imperial Opera featuring Pauline Viardot and Antonio Tamburini. A Russian company for the first time performed Donizetti’s masterpiece in Moscow, 1886. Howling success is following this production up to this day. This will be a first premiere for the Novosibirsk audience. Don Pasquale has never been mentioned in the theatre’s playbill before the upcoming premiere scheduled on August 2022.
In terms of plot, characters etc. this production follows all canons of classical Italian opera buffa. The action takes place in Rome, mid-19th century. The main character represents a typical figure of an old comedy – an elderly and wealthy bachelor, who is looking to get married. His name is Don Pasquale. He has a nephew, his only heir Ernesto. In the beginning we see Don Pasquale circle around the room – he’s plotting something for his wayward nephew.
There are four main characters in this opera: Don Pasquale, an old bachelor; Ernesto, his nephew, who lives with him; Norina, a youthful widow, Ernesto’s love interest; Dr. Malatesta, a primary care doctor and a plotter. They all seem to remind us of Italian traditional commedia dell’arte masks: Don Pasquale – Pantalone, Ernesto – lovesick Pierrot, Malatesta – plotter Scapino, Norina – cunning Colombina. However, this particular opera is considered the landmark work of Gaetano Donizetti, since it’s driven (in terms of comedy) by real people, not masks, true events instead of default plots, and last, but not least – pure, authentic emotions.
Scene one. Don Pasquale's mansion.
An eccentric elderly bachelor waits for a doctor who should bring no ordinary medication but this time round a specific "cure" for disobedience of Don Pasquale's nephew Ernesto: he is going to get married contrary to his uncle's fierce opposition. Ernesto dreams to walk a beautiful young widow Norina down the aisle. The elderly bachelor wants to retaliate his nephew by getting married himself which will exclude the young man from his will and as a result penniless Ernesto will have to reject his significant other.
The doctor arrives at last. He claims proudly that he has fulfilled the order by Pasquale: he has managed to find a bride for him and moreover she is the most decent one, his own sister. In response to Pasquale's words of gratitude the doctor eulogizes the bride. The elderly bachelor falls head over heels in love with her; immediately he wants to meet his bride-to-be. But Pasquale bears in mind his retaliation plan. He already is gloating over how stupefied Ernesto be having learned about his wedding and the new will that deprives his nephew of all the inheritance. Even when Don Pasquale shares his plans with Ernesto, the latter at first mistakes it for a joke but in a short while realizes that his uncle tells the truth. As a last resort the young man refers to common sense: before making such a serious step, it is necessary to seek advice of your closest friends. Here is for instance a family doctor called Malatesta, it wouldn’t hurt to ask him if he approves of such a late marriage. Don Pasquale responds arrogantly: the doctor knows it all and approves of this marriage completely, moreover the bride is Malatesta's sister. Ernesto is devastated by his uncle's words. He is bankrupt and the family doctor who's also his best friend turns out to be his enemy. In the end Pasquale expels his nephew out of the house.
Scene two. A room at Norina's house.
A charming young widow reads Ernesto's sad letter. "My dear Norina, I am writing to you with a mortal wound in my heart: malicious Don Pasquale upon the advice of hypocritical doctor Malatesta gets married to his sister, expels me out of home and disinherits me. Love orders me to reject you. Soon I will leave Rome and then Europe. Be happy - this is my most fervent wish... Your Ernesto". Luckily the doctor is present there as well and Norina asks him a question: what kind of trap is it?
The doctor at once tells her that Don Pasquale has planned to get married for quite a long time. Until now the doctor managed to dissuade him but the old man is so stubborn that Malatesta has to change his strategy. The doctor doesn't resist him so far, on the contrary he pretends to help to arrange the marriage. He tells the old man that Don Pasquale can have his sister as a wife. It corresponds to the truth partly: as a matter of fact, Malatesta has a sister, but she is brought up far away in a monastery. Doctor's plan is to do the following: Norina will be introduced as his sister. Doctor's cousin in his turn will be introduced to Pasquale as a notary officer to formalize this fake marriage. All Norina has to do now is to make the old man fall in love with her. They discuss their course of actions thoroughly. Norina threatens: "Just you wait, a silly old man, you will face a fine match in me..." The doctor laughs anticipating the whole pandemonium of this marriage.
Entering the house of Don Pasquale again. Ernesto says goodbye to his home and happiness. After his leave Don Pasquale strolls jauntily around the house. He tries hard to be a fine gentleman. "If you are in your seventies, never tell anyone you're tired... Stride stately and vigorously..."
In comes the doctor bringing along a blushing maid, who according to Malatesta only recently has left the monastery. Norina slips into her role brilliantly. She nearly faints seeing her husband-to-be. Her chastity cannot withstand such close proximity with a man. The elderly bachelor rhapsodizes with affection. The complot turns out to be a piece of cake. Pasquale wants to get married without a further ado. He walks right into the trap credulously and foolishly. Malatesta certainly has everything lined up. The notary officer is near at hand concluding the marriage contract in no time.
Ernesto enters the scene at this moment. Affected by what he has witnessed he realizes that he doesn't only lose a close friend Malatesta but his beloved Norina is treacherously unfaithful to him. Desperate, he nearly ruins the plan, but the doctor is on guard - he whispers to Ernesto: keep a grip on yourself, otherwise you will lose Norina forever!
In the meantime, the marriage contract is concluded - it follows that the young woman becomes a hostess of the house. Hardly have the ink dried out on the paper than Norina transforms into a cunning and cantankerous one. Moments ago, she acted as a gullible girl barely able to express her opinion. And now she rumbles, grumbles, orders, chats tirelessly. Soon Don Pasquale is also convinced that the modest girl, accustomed to the monastery routine, loves all the glitter and luxury. At once she orders her house steward to hire some new servants. Let here be plenty of porters, ushers, servants for she feels disgusted to contemplate the wretched and distasteful household around her. Then she mentors her husband on the rules of behavior and good manners. She reprimands him so that he can no longer responds. Frustrated Pasquale mutters: "This woman is going to ruin my house, banish my servants, bring along tailors and jewelers… dinners and debauchery will keep going".
Ernesto finally figures out what's going on and even develops a sense of compassion for the old man. But there's nothing to, for the game is still on. Don Pasquale learns the hard way that love belongs to the youth, and not the elderly.
Scene one. Don Pasquale's house has changed tremendously...
All the tables and chairs are littered with dresses, hats with feathers, furs, belts embroidered with gold and lace. Don Pasquale is frustrated with how the things are. He desperately observes the countless receipts testifying to wastefulness of his young bride.
One of the doors opens: in comes a barber carrying along a multitude of combs, lipstick boxes, powder boxes, tongs, and other toiletries. And time and again the bills are pouring in; the just-married husband states in desperation: “If there is no end to this, I will soon find myself in an asylum". At the same time the old man is jealous. Norina, dressed to kill, is about to head off. Pasquale considers it is time to show the husband’s authority: “My fair lady, proceed immediately to your room and do not dare to leave without my permission". Norina objects defiantly. One thing led to another, and here comes the first slap on Don Pasquale’s face. The young woman disappears leaving the old man among the countless piles of toiletries and bills. One of those "bills" deliberately dropped by Norina turns out to be no bill at all – it is a note sent by a secret admirer of his wife, and not by one of the countless merchants. Pasquale reads: "Tonight between nine and ten p.m. I'll be expecting you in the garden... Let me in through the backyard where the shade of trees forms a secluded place. I'll give you a sign with a song... Your one and only beloved".
This is too much even for Pasquale. He sends for Malatesta immediately. This infamy needs to stop. The poor husband leaves to have a break from these emotional torments. Doctor appears accompanied by Ernesto. They keep on plotting. The young man is to meet Norina in the garden, while Doctor tricks Pasquale into thinking that he wants to break up the marriage. Ernesto heads off to a date. Hardly had the door closed behind him, when Pasquale entered the room. Every word he says is a lament. He was abused, his property is being frittered away, and on top of that he now has a letter exposing the bride’s depravity. Malatesta nods sympathetically and gives a piece of advice: he should lay an ambush and catch the lovebirds in the garden. However, this is not enough for the old man. He wants to get rid of his wife. He is fed up with her promises. Pasquale needs his wife to promise him only one thing: to never step into his house again! The doctor was expecting exactly this outcome. He continues giving advises:
We hide in the arbor
We eavesdrop on your wife
And if she is indeed unfaithful
We banish her…
He definitely has thought through the plan to catch the lovebirds unaware. Pasquale is anticipating the sweet revenge he is about to take. The doctor revels in the plot he hatched: the old man is willing to cancel his wedding with Norina.
Scene 2. In the garden
Ernesto sings a song to summon his fair lady. Norina appears and throws herself into his arms. However, her old husband is also here with his lantern flickering behind the trees. Malatesta is obviously following him. They manage to catch the lovebirds “red-handed”. At first, Pasquale is overwhelmed with revenge, but later his conscience takes over: he will let the young get married and stop putting grit in the machine. Relieved, he acknowledges that the young man in a coat is none other than his nephew, and the “unfaithful” wife is Norina, a fair young widow, his nephew’s beloved. Pasquale forgives the plotters, the fictitious notary and fictitious marital agreement.
The performance’s libretto is also available at https://www.belcanto.ru/pasquale.html