Donizetti's final comic opera, Don Pasquale, has a rich history in the annals of Metropolitan Opera Radio Broadcasts. Although for sheer numbers of performances Don Pasquale hardly compares with the most popular operas in the repertory (a mere 117 compared to more than a thousands each of La Bohème, Aida, and Carmen), the extraordinary artists who have championed the work have given it a special place in Met history. Even before the broadcast era, the ebullient score and foolproof comedy enticed legendary casts of singers, such as soprano Marcella Sembrich, baritone Antonio Scotti, and basso-buffo Antonio Pini-Corsi.
The premiere of the new production in 1935 was broadcast live with a cast to make connoisseurs of great singing salivate: Lucrezia Bori as Norina, Tito Schipa as Ernesto, Giuseppe De Luca as Malatesta, and Ezio Pinza as Pasquale, under the baton of Ettore Panizza. "The cast yesterday was so sympathetic to the music, interpreted it with such grace and, as it were, involuntary mastery, that they seemed to have been caught in a lark by a silented parted curtain." For that season Don Pasquale was on a double bill with Pergolesi's La Serva Padrona, but over the years it had many different pairings with works as diverse as Cavalleria Rusticana, Hänsel und Gretel, Victor Herbert's Madeleine, Pagliacci, the ballets La Soirée and La Sylphide, and others.
Salvatore Baccaloni, the great Italian comic basso, took the title role in the 1940 broadcast with the charming Bidù Sayao as Norina. Virgil Thomson reviewing for the Herald-Tribune wrote, "Mr. Baccaloni raised the whole occasion to the level of one of those memorable performances that make the history of opera such a glamorous and glorious thing."
Fifty years ago, another notable new production of Don Pasquale was broadcast live from the Met, with Roberta Peters, Cesare Valletti, Frank Guarrera, and Fernando Corena, conducted by 25-year-old Thomas Schippers in his Met debut. Winthrop Sergeant wrote in the New Yorker that "it is one of the deftest and most ingratiating affairs currently on display," with "an almost perfect job of casting," and that musically, "the performance was a masterpiece of crisp pacing and refined workmanship." It is worth noting that Roberta Peters was still singing Norina the last time the Met performed this opera in 1980.
In the 1978-79 season, a new production of Don Pasquale was mounted to serve as the farewell vehicle for Beverly Sills. For the broadcast in January 1979, Sills was joined by Alfredo Kraus as Ernesto, Håkan Hagegård as Malatesta, and Gabriel Bacquier as Pasquale, conducted by Nicola Rescigno. "Rarely has the Metropolitan Opera offered its audience more pleasure than it did Thursday in its new production of Donizetti's Don Pasquale," proclaimed the Daily News, while Irving Kolodin, the dean of New York critics concluded, "At the end, one was quite ready to join with Donizetti's own curtain refrain: 'Bravo, bravo, Don Pasquale.'"
This season the Met offers yet another new production of the bel canto gem (broadcast on April 15) with a brilliant and youthful cast to rival their illustrious predecessors: Anna Netrebko, Juan Diego Flórez, Mariusz Kwiecien, and Simone Alaimo.