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 Label Catalog #
    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