Age offers no insurance against stupidity. In this, the story of Don Pasquale is by no means an isolated case. Commedia dell’arte, the traditional Italian form of improvised comedy, had already poked fun at the character of the vain, dazzled or self-important old man. His comic potential is particularly high when, like Don Pasquale, he goes courting and demands a cure to make him young once again. Here even his own doctor can become his enemy. In this case Dottore Malatesta sides with youth. In order to help his unhappy nephew Ernesto, he arranges a sham marriage between Pasquale and Ernesto‘s beloved, the beautiful but penniless Norina. However, no sooner has the wedding been celebrated and the fortune shared than the loving and sweet-natured bride transforms into a vicious fury. She makes exorbitant demands, orders deliveries of expensive clothing and finery, laughs at old Pasquale and humiliates him whenever she can. In order to be rid of this domestic plague, Pasquale is prepared to take both his nephew and his beloved into his household and is forced to realise that he has become the victim of a collective intrigue.
Gaetano Donizetti’s (1797–1848) opera ‘Don Pasquale’ is a late example of opera buffa. When it was premiered in Paris in 1843, the genre’s heyday was already over. A new dramatic sensibility ruled the operatic stage and gave more scope to lively comedies of Rossini-like character with greater sentiment. Malatesta may praise his marriage candidate in enthusiastic tones, Ernesto indulges in Weltschmerz for a brief time and the slap which Don Pasquale is dealt by the furious Norina has something tragic about it. However, Donizetti’s characters can also build up some real musical momentum and bring the old musical comedy to life.
Star tenor Rolando Villazón is particularly at home in the Italian and French repertoire. Since 2011 the Mexican singer has also discovered a talent for opera direction and has staged a series of operas for Lyon, Baden-Baden, Vienna and Berlin. Now he is making his debut as a director at the Deutsche Oper am Rhein.