Donizetti was sometimes fond of bragging about the speed at which he composed his operas, and Don Pasquale was no exception. Even if this comic masterpiece was not written quite as speedily as he boasted in some of his letters, it was certainly composed in a concentrated spurt of creativity and it sparkles with all the energy that implies. This energy makes it easy to forget that Don Pasquale is very much a late work, written when he had nearly 70 operas under his belt; if his prodigious work list shows his shift towards serious pieces, comedy was never far away from his mind. By neat coincidence, Don Pasquale followed exactly ten years after L’elisir d’amore, and together the two works have remained his most popular.
By a small margin, Don Pasquale has the more bitingly cynical satire, but both works are humanised by the composer’s characteristic deep pathos. Don Pasquale represents a musical advance in some respects, not least in its recitatives, accompanied by strings rather than keyboard as per opera buffa tradition. That tradition is an important part of the work’s make-up, for it is steeped in Italian operatic convention. The more cosmopolitan styles that had been practiced half a century earlier in Vienna make such labels as ‘the most Mozartian of Donizetti’s operas’ a little misleading here, despite the element of social commentary in Don Pasquale. As the Donizetti scholar William Ashbrook has said, this opera is supremely Donizettian.
But Donizetti’s outlook was cosmopolitan, too, and indeed Don Pasquale was composed for the Théâtre Italien in Paris, with its leading quartet of singers in mind — three of whom had created Bellini’s I puritani. Its premiere in January 1843 marked the start of the composer’s last period of health — before the year was out he began to suffer the mentally crippling effects of his syphilis and he would write only two more operas.
20 October, 3.30 p.m.
24 October, 3.30 p.m.
27 October, 3.30 p.m.
31 October, 3.30 p.m.
3 November, 3.30 p.m.