Ruggero Leoncavallo

Pagliacci, opera

    Description by John Palmer

    Late in 1891, Leoncavallo set out to compose an opera similar to, but surpassing, Mascagni's Cavalleria rusticana, one of the primary examples verismo (lusually translated as "realism"). Within five months, Leoncavallo had completed I Pagliacci (The Clowns), his second opera, but his first to be performed. It made him famous overnight, achieving such a success that his 20 other works for the stage are all but unknown in comparison. By the end of 1893, I Pagliacci had played everywhere from Mexico to Moscow.

    The text of I Pagliacci, by the composer, is based on one of the cases encountered by Leoncavallo's father, a police magistrate in Naples. The actual case concerned a middle-aged actor who murdered his unfaithful wife, to which Leoncavallo added elements from the commedia dell'arte, such as the traveling actors, and naturalist ideas. He took the finished score to the Sonzogno publishing firm, which arranged the first performance, at the Teatro dal Verme in Milan, on May 21, 1892.

    Consisting of a Prologue and two acts, I Pagliacci is a short opera. Leoncavallo initially cast the entire drama in a Prologue and one act, but the ecstatic reception of climactic aria "Vesti la giubba" (Put on your costume) prompted the composer to drop the curtain after it on subsequent nights, reserving the ensuing "play within a play" for the second act. "Vesti la giubba," with its heart-rendering "Ridi, Pagliaccio, sul tuo amore infranto!" (Laugh and be merry, though your love betrayed you), has become the most famous number from the opera and obligatory for star tenors.

    Although in I Pagliacci Leoncavallo makes no attempt to deny Italian origins of the opera, he does draw on the French opéra lyrique and makes moderate use of Wagnerian Leitmotiv. The latter is evident in the static musical symbols for clowns: Canio's motive of doubt and the motive representing the love of Nedda and Silvio. This mixture of elements from different styles allows Leoncavallo to speak with a unique voice. Leoncavallo sets his sordid subject matter to melodic material of high quality and great variety, ranging from the simplest, folk song-like tunes to Canio's extremely passionate and lyrical "Vesti la giubba."

    The fine line that can exist between fantasy and reality is the point of the second act, in which Canio, aware of his wife's infidelity, transfers his anger into the comedy in which he plays a part. The audience on the stage believes Canio is a great actor, while we know that his rage is real. Only when real deaths occur do the viewers onstage understand the "reality" they are witnessing. Leoncavallo then shatters this "reality" by having Tonio, as he does in the Prologue, address us, letting us know that what we have seen is a play and urging us to go home, for "the comedy is finished!"

    Recordings or performances in which the character of Canio delivers the line "the comedy is finished," are incorrect and the result of tenor vanity.

    Parts/Movements

    1. No. 1, Si può?
    2. No. 2, Son qual
    3. No. 3, Un grande spettacolo
    4. No. 4, Un tal gioco
    5. No. 5a, I zampognari!
    6. No. 5b, Din, don (Bell Chorus)
    7. No. 6a, Qual fiamma avea nel guardo!
    8. No. 6b, Oh! Che volo d'augelli
    9. No. 6c, Stridono lassù
    10. No. 7a, Sei là!
    11. No. 7b, So ben che difforne
    12. No. 8a, Silvio! A quest'ora
    13. No. 8b, Decidi il mio destin
    14. No. 8c, E allor perchè
    15. No. 9a, Recitar!
    16. No. 9b, Vesti la giubba (On with the motley)
    17. No. 10, Intermezzo
    18. No. 11, Presto, affrettiamoci
    19. No. 12a, Pagliaccio, mio marito
    20. No. 12b, O Colombina (Serenade)
    21. No. 12c, È dessa!
    22. No. 13a, Versa il filtro
    23. No. 13b, No, Pagliaccio non son
    24. No. 14a, Ebben, se mir giudichi
    25. No. 14b, No, per mia madre!

    Appears On

    Year Title / Performer Label / Catalog # AllMusic Rating
    2014
    Warner Classics
    634091
    2013
    United Classics
    T 2CD2012065
    2012
    Sony Classical
    88691909992
    2012
    Decca
    2012
    Decca
    4784147
    2011
    Decca
    2011
    Decca
    2011
    Deutsche Grammophon
    2011
    Deutsche Grammophon
    4779336
    2010
    Decca
    2010
    RCA Red Seal / Sony BMG
    7576542
    2010
    Brilliant Classics
    94016
    2010
    Preiser Records
    20060
    2010
    EMI Classics
    2010
    Decca / Philips
    2010
    EMI Classics / Warner Classics
    5099964072
    2009
    Document / Documents
    222733207
    2009
    Opera Fanatic
    57
    2008
    Orfeo
    756081
    2008
    Deutsche Grammophon
    00440 073 4389
    2008
    Deutsche Grammophon
    004400734300
    2008
    Walhall
    0226
    2007
    Allegro Corporation
    9902
    2007
    Immortal
    0734295
    2007
    VAI Audio
    4421
    2007
    EMI Classics / Warner Classics
    0946395918
    2007
    Opus Arte
    0983
    2006
    Urania
    22300
    2006
    Opera D'Oro
    5602
    2006
    Decca
    000718102
    2006
    Myto Records
    61108
    2005
    Berlin Classics
    0091022
    2005
    Great Opera Performances
    66321
    2005
    Archipel
    208
    2005
    Myto Records
    MCD 053311
    2005
    EMI Music Distribution / Warner Classics
    7243586830
    2005
    Divine Art
    27805
    2004
    Guild / Guild
    GHCD 2291/2
    2004
    Urania
    263
    2003
    Document
    220834
    2003
    EMI Music Distribution
    85650
    2003
    Decca
    2003
    Decca
    470570
    2002
    Gala Records
    342
    2002
    Warner Fonit
    87272
    2001
    Preiser Records
    20007
    2001
    Opera D'Oro
    1286
    2001
    Naxos
    110155
    2001
    Myto Records
    12244
    2001
    VAI Audio
    1197
    2000
    Chandos
    3005
    2000
    Decca
    467 086-2DHO
    2000
    Opera D'Oro
    9009
    2000
    Decca
    4782672
    2000
    Gala Records
    100564
    2000
    Gala Records
    100518
    1999
    Romophone
    820172
    1999
    EMI/Black Dog
    19968
    1999
    Grammofono 2000
    78814
    1999
    Decca
    452179
    1998
    Preiser Records
    90030
    1998
    Opera
    54534
    1998
    Opera D'Oro
    1180
    1998
    Chandos
    3003
    1998
    Angel Records
    66778
    1997
    Pearl
    GEMMCDS9288
    1997
    RCA
    74321 50168-2
    1997
    EMI Music Distribution
    56287
    1996
    Bongiovanni
    11202
    1996
    Decca
    4443922
    1996
    Deutsche Grammophon
    449727
    1996
    Philips
    454265
    1995
    VAI Audio
    1014
    1995
    Legato Classics
    181
    1995
    VAI Audio
    1082
    1994
    Naxos
    660021
    1994
    Memories
    4576
    1993
    Philips
    1993
    Nimbus
    7843
    1993
    Philips
    438132
    1991
    EMI Music Distribution
    63967
    1990
    London
    414590
    1990
    Deutsche Grammophon
    419257
    1989
    EMI Music Distribution
    49503
    1987
    EMI Music Distribution
    47981
    1985
    Philips
    411 484-2PH
    Music Memoria
    30275
    Rodolphe
    32750
    Foyer Records
    2024
    Melodram
    102003
    G.Z. Classics
    380
    HRE Recordings
    1001
    Foyer Records
    2050
    BMG
    60865
    Legato Classics
    155
    Eklipse
    7
    Phonographe
    5066
    EMI Music Distribution
    63933
    Empire
    70359
    Vox
    5161
    Rodolphe
    325