• Don Pasquale Synopsis

The Story

Audio tracks are embedded within each activity. A pronunciation guide and "Who's Who" chart can be found here.

ACT I Scene 1: Don Pasquale’s home, somewhere in Rome, early one morning long ago. As the overture (Tracks 13, 15, 16, and 18) ends, Don Pasquale da Corneto, a wealthy old bachelor, is waiting for his doctor, Malatesta, who has promised to come with good news: he’s found a wife for Pasquale (Track 1). She’s a lovely, shy young woman—in fact, the doctor’s own sister, Sofronia. But when Malatesta arrives, we see him join in Pasquale’s excitement only to ridicule the old man under his breath. It turns out that Pasquale wants to marry out of spite. He would be ready to leave his entire estate to his nephew Ernesto, if only Ernesto would marry a rich woman. But the nephew has refused, professing his love for the beautiful young widow Norina. Now Pasquale wants to take a wife—and thereby get an heiress to keep Ernesto from inheriting his fortune. Ernesto, of course, is shocked to hear of his uncle’s intentions.

Scene 2: Norina’s home, not far away, a bit later the same morning. Norina, too, is waiting for Malatesta (Tracks 17 and 19–26), who is going to fill her in on a practical joke he’s playing. Meanwhile, she receives a sad letter from Ernesto. He is leaving Rome, disinherited by his uncle Pasquale, now that Malatesta has arranged Pasquale’s marriage. When the doctor arrives, he assures Norina that she and Ernesto have nothing to fear: Pasquale will not marry since there is no Sofronia. Malatesta has made up the whole story. He wants Norina to play the part of Pasquale’s bride. He explains that with his help and some  training, Norina will drive Pasquale to desperation to eventually let her and Ernesto get married (Track 2).

ACT II Pasquale’s home, midday. A disconsolate Ernesto leaves his uncle’s home, unaware of Malatesta’s plans, angry at the doctor for arranging his uncle’s marriage, and grieving the loss of Norina. Malatesta arrives, together with a gentle, demure, veiled woman, whom he introduces as his sister Sofronia. Pasquale is delighted by his bride, who, together with Malatesta, makes fun of him in asides. The doctor brings a notary and a wedding contract has been drawn up, when Ernesto returns, hoping to have a final word with his uncle. He is enlisted as a witness, much to his chagrin—until Malatesta quietly lets him in on the plot. The contract is sealed and, as planned, “Sofronia” instantly turns from a sweet convent girl into a nasty, insulting, controlling shrew, laughing all the way along with Ernesto (Tracks 3–4). She hires more servants, orders up a carriage and horses, announces plans to redecorate Pasquale’s house, and starts to arrange a lavish wedding. In short, she drives Pasquale to comic fury.

ACT III Scene 1: Pasquale’s home, that afternoon. Merchants and tradespeople come and go in the redecorated parlor, as Pasquale counts his mounting bills. “Sofronia” enters on her way to the theater. Pasquale forbids her to go but she won’t be hindered and slaps him. Pasquale, by now a broken man, permits her to leave, but warns that if she does, he will not allow her back into his house (Tracks 5–7). “Sofronia” insists she will return. He responds that he’ll divorce her if she leaves—but she does, anyway. When she has gone, Pasquale comes upon a letter apparently sent to her by a lover whom she intends to meet that very evening in Pasquale’s garden. Now angrier than ever, the old man conceives a plan of his own. He heads out to send for Malatesta (not knowing the doctor is in on the trick). With Malatesta’s help, Pasquale believes, he will nip Sofronia’s affair in the bud.

With their master away, the staff in Pasquale’s house gossip about him and his new bride. Malatesta shows up with Ernesto, who agrees to play the part of Sofronia’s secret lover. Ernesto leaves and Pasquale returns to fill the doctor in on the letter from his wife’s lover. Malatesta plays along and agrees to help Pasquale catch the duplicitous Sofronia redhanded. That way, Pasquale figures, he can end his disastrous engagement (Tracks 11–12).

Scene 2: The garden of Pasquale’s home, late afternoon. Ernesto and Norina, waiting in the garden to play their parts, declare their love (Track 14). Ernesto hides as Pasquale and Malatesta arrive. Confronted by Pasquale, “Sofronia” denies having a lover. She insists on returning to her “home.” Pasquale rebuffs her. Tomorrow, he says, the new lady of the house will arrive: the wife of his nephew Ernesto! He is returning to his original intention. He will let Ernesto inherit his fortune after all, even if his nephew chooses to marry Norina. That should get Sofronia out of his life. But she refuses to leave until Pasquale can prove that Ernesto and Norina have really married.

Malatesta now reveals the truth: he calls Ernesto out from his hiding place, unmasks “Sofronia,” and wins for the couple not only Pasquale’s blessings on their marriage, but a large annual stipend of money (Track 8). Embarrassed but grateful, the old bachelor Pasquale has learned to act his age (Tracks 9–10).