ACT I, Scene One - Don Pasquale, an old, miserly bachelor, has decided to marry and is about to give the news to Ernesto, his nephew and heir. Dr. Malatesta enters to announce he has found the bride, his sister Sofronia. Pasquale demands to see her and greedily contemplates his situation. Ernesto shows up, and Pasquale urges him to marry a wealthy girl from Rome. Ernesto loves Norina and refuses. Pasquale threatens to kick him out of the house and announces his own plans to marry. Ernesto, despondent, believes Malatesta has conspired against him.
Act I, Scene Two -Norina receives a melodramatic letter from Ernesto, and Malatesta arrives as she finishes reading. Malatesta is confident that Ernesto and Norina will marry, but Norina shows him the despairing letter: Ernesto will soon be kicked out of his home and penniless. Malatesta schemes to pass Norina off as Sofronia. They will perform a fake ceremony, and Norina (posing as Sofronia) will irritate Pasquale into an annulment.
ACT II - Ernesto is wrapped up in his sorrow. Pasquale enters, still boasting. Malatesta and the so-called Sofronia show up. Pasquale is overwhelmed. He proposes and a fake contract is drawn up. Ernesto acts as witness, and the ceremony proceeds. Norina immediately begins to push Pasquale around. She wants better things, more money for the servants. Pasquale will soon be bankrupt. He is despondent.
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