The elderly bachelor Don Pasquale, at his house in Rome, awaits his friend Dr Malatesta, who has arranged a marriage for him. The bride, Malatesta tells him, is beautiful and innocent, and happens to be Malatesta’s sister.
Don Pasquale reminds his nephew Ernesto that he has offered to wed him to a wealthy lady on pain of disinheritance if he refuses. Ernesto refuses again; he intends to marry the impoverished Norina.
At home, Norina scoffs at a romantic novel. Malatesta arrives and tells her of the scheme he has hatched to help her and Ernesto marry. Norina will be introduced to Pasquale as Malatesta’s sister Sofronia, fresh from the convent. After they are ‘married’ by a false notary, Pasquale will be at their mercy.
Disowned by Pasquale, Ernesto feels he cannot ask Norina to share his poverty.
Malatesta arrives at Pasquale’s house with ‘Sofronia’, apparently shy and afraid of men. Pasquale proposes and she accepts. Malatesta’s false notary draws up the contract, making Sofronia mistress of the house and owner of half of Pasquale’s goods. The ceremony done, Sofronia instantly transforms into a domineering, spendthrift shrew and appoints Ernesto her escort.
Don Pasquale, his home completely revamped by Norina/Sofronia, examines the bills with horror. Norina enters, dressed up to go to the theatre. Pasquale tries to stop her, but ‘Sofronia’ treats him harshly. As she leaves, she deliberately drops a piece of paper. Pasquale discovers that it is a note from Sofronia’s lover arranging a tryst in the garden that evening. Pasquale sends for Malatesta and shows him the note. They agree to confront the lovers in the garden that night.
Later, in the garden, Ernesto serenades Norina, and they sing of their love. Pasquale and Malatesta spy on them and then ambush them, but Ernesto escapes unrecognised. ‘Sofronia’ denies her guilt and refuses to leave, but Malatesta persuades her that she cannot stay, as Norina is to arrive tomorrow as Ernesto’s bride. Pasquale is thus forced to accept Ernesto’s chosen wife in order to get rid of his own. When the truth is finally revealed, Pasquale forgives the youngsters and all are reconciled.
Synopsis by George Hall