By Lynne Gray, PhD
Please note this can be seen at www.metopera.org
Saturday, July 4
Donizetti’s Don Pasquale 2 Hrs 13 Mins
Starring Beverly Sills, Alfredo Kraus, Håkan Hagegård, and Gabriel Bacquier, conducted by Nicola Rescigno. From January 11, 1979.
For the Met’s second airing of Donizetti’s delightful Don Pasquale, we have the effervescent Beverly Sills in John Dexter’s lavish production which was especially created as a parting gift for the beloved American soprano who bid farewell to the Met in 1979 with this role. Donizetti’s bel canto masterpiece is a perfect showcase for her infectious stage energy and spectacular musical gifts, and the only one of her roles with the Met to be preserved as a telecast. As good as the Netrebko/Kwiecien/Del Carlo version that we saw in April was, this one tops it. Even though it’s the 4th of July holiday – you should try not to miss it; it’s a great way to celebrate! The opera pits a clever young widow, Norina, against a crusty old bachelor, who is absolutely no match for her wiles. The sensational, mid-century heartthrob, Alfredo Kraus, sings her beloved Ernesto. Håkan Hagegård, in his Met debut role as Dr. Malatesta (yep, Dr. Headache, is the man who helps the young couple trick the randy old bachelor of the title (Gabriel Bacquier at his comical best) into a fake marriage. This being a Donizetti comedy, it all turns out perfectly well at the end—and getting there is pure operatic fun.
Donizetti’s madcap plot revolves around the lecherous, aging and appropriately disheveled, Don Pasquale, who is much in need of a woman to straighten up his dilapidated, and lonely, bachelor life. Pasquale is a deliciously hammy and expansive title role for a Bass – a rarity in opera! Gabriel Bacquier is wonderful as the gullible, but somehow sympathetic old fool who is looking for a rich – but also demure and modest virgin – to ease his declining years. Sills is the perfect Norina, a clever young widow who decides, with the help of Dr. Malatesta, to teach him a lesson he won’t soon forget. The final character in this story – the true love interest – is Ernesto, Pasquale’s handsome, but somewhat introverted, young nephew. As the opera opens, Don Pasquale is about to disown Ernesto (his only heir) and kick him out of the house for refusing to marry the wealthy woman Pasquale has chosen for him. Ernesto, we learn, is in love with someone else, a poor young widow, and would rather be disinherited than give her up.
Pasquale is anxiously awaiting a visit from his physician, Dr. Malatesta, whom he has recently enlisted to help him find a suitable wife for himself – since he is kicking Ernesto out, he has decided to marry again and produce a new heir. Malatesta, as it turns out, is a good friend of Ernesto’s and is actually scheming to try to help him. Without Ernesto’s knowledge, however, Malatesta has already enlisted Norina’s aid in teaching Pasquale a lesson. Norina (now called Sofronia) will be introduced to Pasquale as the doctor’s own demure sister – modest, submissive and just out of a convent – perfect for marriage.
The fake marriage contract is drawn up by Malatesta’s cousin, masquerading as a Notary, and before the ink is even dry on the marriage papers, the now suddenly turned shrewish Norina takes over Pasquale’s life – and his money – buying furniture, clothes, carriages, horses and servants. As Pasquale’s worst nightmares about women continue to come true, the duplicitous threesome finally begins to feel some sympathy for the old fool. To see how they wrap up their little lesson – while assuring that Ernesto and Norina can be happily wed – and indeed inherit Pasquale’s estate – listen all the way through for the bubbly, beautiful bel canto music and the happily ever after ending.!
1. Beverly Sills as Norina and Håkan Hagegård as Dr. Malatesta in the Met’s production of Donizetti’s “Don Pasquale” in 1979. Photo Credit: Metropolitan Opera Archives.
2. Beverly Sills as Norina in the Met’s production of Donizetti’s “Don Pasquale” in 1979. Photo Credit: Metropolitan Opera Archives.
3. Alfredo Kraus as Ernesto and Gabriel Bacquier as Pasquale in the Met’s production of Donizetti’s “Don Pasquale” in 1979. Photo Credit: Metropolitan Opera Archives.
4. Beverly Sills as Norina and Håkan Hagegård as Dr. Malatesta in the Met’s production of Donizetti’s “Don Pasquale” in 1979. Photo Credit: Metropolitan Opera Archives.
5. Alfredo Kraus as Ernesto in the Met’s production of Donizetti’s “Don Pasquale” in 1979. Photo Credit: Metropolitan Opera Archives.