At the time of its composition, Donizetti had just been appointed music director and composer for the imperial court of Emperor Ferdinand I of Austria, and Don Pasquale was the 64th of an eventual 66 operas he composed.
The opera, in the tradition of opera buffa, harkens back to the stock characters of the commedia dell'arte. Pasquale is recognizable as the blustery Pantalone, Ernesto as the lovesick Pierrot, Malatesta as the scheming Scapino, and Norina as a wily Columbina. The false Notary echos a long line of false officials as operatic devices.
|Role||Voice type||Premiere Cast, January 3, 1843|
(Conductor: - )
|Don Pasquale, an elderly bachelor||basso buffo||Luigi Lablache|
|Dr Malatesta, his physician||lyric baritone||Antonio Tamburini|
|Ernesto, Pasquale's nephew||tenore leggero||Giovanni Mario|
|Norina, a youthful widow, Ernesto's beloved||soubrette||Giulia Grisi|
|A notary, Malatesta's cousin Carlino||bass||Federico Lablache|
Ernesto is in love with Norina and has refused to marry a "more suitable" woman chosen for him by his uncle Don Pasquale. The old man accordingly plans to wed and produce his own heirs. His physician, Dr. Malatesta, suggests his sister, Sofronia, a convent girl, as the bride. The Don accepts, and Norina disguises herself as Sofronia and signs a marriage contract before a supposed notary. Norina now behaves like a shrew, making life so miserable for the old man that he is relieved when he discovers that he has been duped. He repudiates his desire for marriage and consents to the union of his nephew with Norina.