A play within the play. The jealous clown Canio kills Nedda because of her love affair with Silvio.
Canio is the leader of a travelling commedia dell’arte acting group. His wife Nedda is having an affair with one of the actors, Silvio. Another actor, Tonio, is also in love with Nedda. Tonio declares his love for Nedda but she dismisses him.
Tonio then overhears Nedda talking to her lover Silvio about eloping together. As revenge for Nedda’s rejection he decides to tell her husband Canio. When finding out, Canio rushes to question Nedda who refuses to tell him who her lover is.
The actors get ready to perform their play but Canio, who plays the main role, finds it hard to stay in character. Jealousy consumes him and he grabs a knife in the middle of the performance killing Nedda. Silvio tries to reach the stage from the audience but is too late to save her. He attacks Canio who kills Silvio too. La commedia é finita!
Opera in 2 acts
Sung in Italian
About 1 hour 15 min
Between 1865 and 1870 Calabria, Southern Italy, on the Feast of the Assumption of Mary
Tonio appears through the curtain dressed as the commedia dell’arte character Taddeo. He informs the audience that they’re about to hear a story about real people and that no fake tears will be shed.
It’s three o’clock in the afternoon on a warm august day when the group of commedia dell’arte actors arrive in the village. The villagers cheer them on and are told by Canio that the play will start at 11 pm that same evening. Tonio wants to help Nedda down the cart but is pushed aside by her husband Canio.
The villagers invite the actors for a drink at the tavern. They tease Canio, saying that Tonio is planning an affair with Nedda. Canio replies that he can play the silly husband on stage, but not in real life. Canio and Beppe leave for the tavern with the crowd, but Tonio stays behind.
Nedda is worried about Canio’s jealousy and dreams about a future of freedom. She realises that Tonio has been listening to her all along. He declares his love for her, only to be laughed at by Nedda. He tries to kiss her but she reacts by hitting him. He leaves and Nedda’s lover Silvio appears. Tonio overhears them talking about eloping that very night. As revenge for being dismissed he decides to tell Canio about their secret relationship.
Canio comes back to question Nedda. He demands to know the name of Nedda’s lover, but she refuses to tell him. Left alone on stage, Canio contemplates the hard life of being a clown, having to hide his feelings behind costumes and makeup.
Tonio asks the audience to take their seats. The play begins.
Arlecchino (Beppe) serenade Colombina (Nedda) outside her window. Her husband Pagliaccio (Canio) is not expected until the next morning. Taddeo (Tonio) comes to woo Colombina (just as he did in real life earlier that afternoon). She mocks him and Arlecchino kicks him out. Arlecchino and Colombina dine. He gives her a sleeping potion to use on her husband Pagliaccio (Canio) so that she can elope with Arlecchino. Taddeo (Tonio) shows up warning them that Pagliaccio is suspicious of them and is on his way home. Arlecchino leaves just before Pagliaccio comes home. Canio hears Colombina utter the same words as Nedda did earlier.
In the middle of the performance Canio stops playing Pagliaccio and once again demands to know the name of Nedda’s lover. The audience is spellbound by, what they think is, his convincing performance. Nedda finally says that she will never tell him.
The audience have now realised that they’re no longer acting. Silvio tries to reach the stage from the audience but before he gets there Canio grabs a knife and stabs Nedda who falls to her death. Silvio attacks Canio, but is also killed. La commedia è finita!
Canio (Pagliaccio) – Tenor (spinto)
Jealous actor, plays the clown, Nedda’s husband
Nedda (Colombina) – Soprano (lyric)
Canio’s wife, plays the role of Colombina, in love with Silvio
Tonio (Taddeo) – Baritone (dramatic)
An actor In love with Nedda, plays the role of Taddeo
Silvio – Baritone (lyric)
In love with Nedda
Beppe (Arlecchino) – Tenor (buffo)
An actor playing the role of Arlecchino
Place of birth: Milan, Italy
Place of death: Montecatini Terme, Tuscany, Italy
Ruggero Leoncavallo was an Italian composer and librettist most known for his opera Pagliacci. His list of works includes around 20 operas and operettas, some orchestral works, a requiem and various songs.
In 1895 Leoncavallo married the singer Berthe Rambaud. They met in the 1880s when Leoncavallo worked as an accompanist in Paris. They never had any children but Berthe took care of an eight-year-old girl by the name of Jeanne Puel. She inherited Leoncavallo’s estate after Berthe’s death.
Pagliacci is the only opera of all his works that is still frequently performed.
"This new art made a deep impression on me, and I began to study it ardently."
Leoncavallo wrote a version of La bohème that premiered a year later than Puccini’s opera with the same title. Two tenor arias from the opera are still occasionally performed.
Most prominent operas
Leoncavallo wrote the librettos for most of his own operas. He also wrote the libretto for Puccini’s Manon Lescaut.
2+1, 2+1, 2+1, 3 - 4, 3, 3, 1
timp, perc, 2 harps, strings
In 1890 Leoncavallo saw the opera Cavalleria rusticana by Pietro Mascagni. That inspired him to write his own verismo opera, Pagliacci. Nowadays the two operas are often combined, a so called double bill.
Pagliacci premiered in 1892 at Teatro Dal Verme in Milan in 1892 conducted by Arturo Toscanini. The plot and inspiration for Pagliacci is based on a murder trial in 1865 that his father, who worked as a judge, presided over.
Aria – Stridono lassù (Nedda)
Aria – Vesti la giubba (Canio)
Aria –No Pagliacco non son (Canio)