Stage Director: Opera-Theatre-Musicals
An in-depth look at Opera Arizona’s 2013-14 Season.
Norina in Don Pasquale: Donizetti’s version of “I’m Every Woman”
written by Stage Director Chuck Hudson
One of the trickiest things about the opera DON PASQUALE is that there is only one female character, Norina. When we meet her, we are not introduced to a girl but to a woman; one we have heard about before meeting her and one who is specifically different from most soprano Ingénue roles. She is not an Ingénue at all in fact early in the show she is described as a young widow. She is neither innocent of the ways of men nor innocent of the ways of the world—she is a woman of some experience.
In her introductory aria we spy Norina revisiting the Fairy Tale Romance that she and all young girls are taught to believe in, and she knows from experiencing life that this is not what real love is. Perhaps she was married off to a rich old man who died—but no, we know she does not have a lot of money. Perhaps it was an arranged marriage that was more economic than personal. In our own Post-Romantic world where even Disney Princesses have more chutzpah than their Barbie Doll predecessors, we the audience meet an intelligent and educated young woman who has experienced life, and yet is not so jaded by that experience that she no longer believes in love. Norina really is in love with Ernesto.
Similar to the relationship between Rosina and Figaro in Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia, the instructive baritones of both operas never tell their respective sopranos what to do. Instead, they actually value and support the cleverness and intelligence of their protégées. Dr. Malatesta is quite Socratic his instruction, leading his favorite pupil to discover her own solutions to problems by thinking them out logically. In the Age of Reason, that was a man’s role. He even trusts Norina to be a Creative Problem Solver—to improvise her own text and actions disguised as the sassy Sofronia, who is more of a shrew than even Shakespeare’s creature.
If Norina is the Only Woman, she is therefore Every Woman. We at least have the servant-class Berta in Barbiere to compare with the upper-class Rosina. Donizetti only gives us the occasional female chorister with no name for comparison with Norina. On her own and from the first scene Norina must embody every woman you have met. In the 1980s many women believed they must be “bitchy” to appear strong and to survive working in a man’s world. But if the real Norina is in any way shrewish, then she is not in disguise as the shrew Sofronia, and what does that say about all women? No, Norina is written as a three dimensional character; a woman who possesses flaws as well as talents. We may not even agree with some of her choices, especially when she resorts to physical violence. Restoring our faith in a woman who has just slapped an old man to the ground is challenging enough; restoring the comedy from that dark situation is a pivotal moment in the show. Perhaps Norina goes too far, and she must recognize this, too. Or what does that say about every woman?
What would justify an intelligent young woman to slap a frustrated old man to the ground, and for us to remain on her side? For that matter, what would bring an educated man like Malatesta to cheat his friend out of money and to set up his young protégée to gain from it? Is he ONLY Machiavellian or is there something more to him, too? Over my several productions of the opera I have created two SECRETS in my direction—one for Malatesta and one for Norina. No one but the artists singing those roles knows what those secrets are—and perhaps a handful of singers who have taken my Advanced Acting master classes! Watching closely, perhaps you can figure them out!