Pagliacci (Italian pronunciation: [paʎˈʎattʃi] clowns) is an Italian opera in a prologue and two acts, with music and libretto by Ruggero Leoncavallo. It is the only Leoncavallo opera that is still widely staged.
Pagliacci premiered at the Teatro Dal Verme in Milan on 21 May 1892, conducted by Arturo Toscanini (who did not like it), with Adelina Stehle as Nedda, Fiorello Giraud as Canio, Victor Maurel as Tonio, and Mario Ancona as Silvio. Nellie Melba played Nedda in London in 1892, soon after its Italian premiere, and in New York in 1893.
Composition history 
Around 1890, when Pietro Mascagni's Cavalleria rusticana premiered, Leoncavallo was a little-known composer. After seeing its success, he decided to write an opera in response, in one act and composed in the verismo style. Leoncavallo claimed that he took the inspiration for the story of Pagliacci from a real-life incident from his childhood. This was a murder in 1865, where the victim was a Leoncavallo family servant, Gaetano Scavello. The murderer was Gaetano D'Alessandro, with Luigi D'Alessandro, Gaetano's brother, as an accomplice to the crime. This incident resulted from a series of perceived romantic entanglements involving Scavello, Luigi D'Alessandro, and a village girl with whom both men were infatuated. Leoncavallo's father, a judge, was the presiding magistrate over the criminal investigation.
Upon learning of the plot of Leoncavallo's libretto in an 1894 French translation, the French author Catulle Mendès saw resemblances in its story to his 1874 play La Femme de Tabarin, such as the play-within-the-play and the clown murdering his wife. Mendès subsequently sued Leoncavallo for plagiarism. Leoncavallo pleaded ignorance of Mendès' play, and there were subsequent counter-accusations that Mendès' own play resembled that of Don Manuel Tamayo y Baus' play Un Drama Nuevo, from 1867. Mendès subsequently dropped his lawsuit. However, the scholar Matteo Sansone has postulated that as Leoncavallo was a notable student of French culture, and lived in Paris from 1882 to 1888, he had ample opportunity to be exposed to novel French art and musical works. These would potentially have included Mendès' play, another version of La femme de Tabarin by Paul Ferrier, and an opera composed by Émile Pessard, Tabarin, based on Ferrier's play. Sansone has elaborated on the many parallels between the Mendès, Ferrier, and Pessard versions of the Tabarin story with Pagliacci, noting that Leoncavallo deliberately minimised any sort of connection between his opera and those earlier French works.
Leoncavallo originally titled his story Il pagliaccio (The Clown). However, the baritone Victor Maurel, who was cast as the first Tonio, requested that Leoncavallo change the title from the singular Il pagliaccio to the plural Pagliacci, to broaden dramatic interest away from Canio alone to include Tonio (his own role).
Performance history 
Pagliacci received mixed critical reviews upon its world premiere, but was instantly successful with the public and has remained so ever since. The UK premiere of Pagliacci took place at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden in London on 19 May 1893. The US premiere followed a month after Covent Garden's at the Grand Opera House in New York on 15 June, while the Metropolitan Opera first staged the work on 11 December of the same year (along with Orfeo ed Euridice), the Nedda being sung by Nellie Melba. The Met combined Pagliacci with Cavalleria rusticana for the first time on 22 December 1893.
The two operas have since been frequently performed as a double-bill, a pairing referred to in the operatic world colloquially as "Cav and Pag". In one instance, Pagliacci was staged as a single work, in Washington National Opera's November 1997 production by Franco Zeffirelli.
|Role||Role in Commedia||Voice type||Premiere cast, 21 May 1892
(Conductor: Arturo Toscanini )
|Canio, head of the troupe||Pagliaccio||tenor||Fiorello Giraud|
|Nedda, Canio's wife,
in love with Silvio
|Colombina, Pagliaccio's wife, in love with Arlecchino||soprano||Adelina Stehle|
|Tonio, the fool||Taddeo, Columbina's servant||baritone||Victor Maurel|
|Beppe (Peppe), actor||Arlecchino, Colombina's lover||tenor||Francesco Daddi|
|Silvio, Nedda's lover||baritone||Mario Ancona|
|Chorus of villagers|
During the overture, the curtain rises. From behind a second curtain, Tonio, dressed as his commedia character Taddeo, addresses the audience. (Si può?... Si può?... Signore! Signori! ... Un nido di memorie.) He reminds the audience that actors have feelings too, and that the show is about real humans.
Act 1 
At three o'clock in the afternoon, the commedia troupe enters the village, and the villagers cheer. Canio describes the night's performance: the troubles of Pagliaccio. He says the play will begin at "ventitre ore." This is an agricultural method of time-keeping, and means the play will begin an hour before sunset. As Nedda steps down from the cart, Tonio offers his hand, but Canio pushes him aside and helps her down himself. The villagers suggest drinking at the tavern. Canio and Beppe accept, but Tonio stays behind. The villagers tease Canio that Tonio is planning an affair with Nedda. Canio warns everyone that while he may act the foolish husband in the play, in real life he will not tolerate other men making advances to Nedda. Shocked, a villager asks if Canio really suspects her. He says no, and sweetly kisses her on the forehead. As the church bells ring vespers, he and Beppe leave for the tavern, and Nedda is left alone.
Nedda is frightened by Canio's vehemence (Qual fiamma avea nel guardo), but the birdsong comforts her (Stridono lassu). Tonio returns and confesses his love for her, but she laughs. Enraged, Tonio grabs Nedda, but she takes a whip, strikes him and drives him off. Silvio, who is Nedda's lover, comes from the tavern, where he has left Canio and Beppe drinking. He asks Nedda to elope with him after the performance and, though she is afraid, she agrees. Tonio, who has been eavesdropping, leaves to inform Canio so that he might catch Silvio and Nedda together. Canio and Tonio return and, as Silvio escapes, Nedda calls after him, "I will always be yours!"
Performed by Enrico Caruso
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Canio chases Silvio but does not catch him and does not see his face. He demands that Nedda tell him the name of her lover, but she refuses. He threatens her with a knife, but Beppe disarms him. Beppe insists that they prepare for the performance. Tonio tells Canio that her lover will surely give himself away at the play. Canio is left alone to put on his costume and prepare to laugh (Vesti la giubba – "Put on the costume").
Act 2 
As the crowd arrives, Nedda, costumed as Colombina, collects their money. She whispers a warning to Silvio, and the crowd cheers as the play begins.
Colombina's husband Pagliaccio has gone away until morning, and Taddeo is at the market. She anxiously awaits her lover Arlecchino, who soon serenades her from beneath her window. Taddeo returns and confesses his love, but she mocks him and lets in Arlecchino through the window. He boxes Taddeo's ears and kicks him out of the room, and the audience laughs.
Arlecchino and Colombina dine, and he delivers a sleeping potion. When Pagliaccio returns, Colombina will drug him and elope with Arlecchino. Taddeo bursts in, warning that Pagliaccio is suspicious of his wife and is about to return. As Arlecchino escapes through the window, Colombina tells him, "I will always be yours!"
As Canio enters, he hears Nedda and exclaims "Name of God! Those same words!" He tries to continue the play, but loses control and demands to know her lover's name. Nedda, hoping to continue the play, calls Canio by his stage name "Pagliaccio" to remind him of the audience's presence. He answers with his arietta: No! Pagliaccio non son! and states that if his face is pale, it is not from the stage makeup but from the shame she has brought to him. The crowd, impressed by his emotional and very real performance, cheers him.
Nedda, trying again to continue the play, admits that she has been visited by the very innocent Arlecchino. Canio, furious and forgetting the play, demands the name of her lover. Nedda swears she will never tell him, and the crowd finally realizes they are not acting. Silvio begins to fight his way toward the stage. Canio, grabbing a knife from the table, stabs Nedda. As she dies she calls: "Help! Silvio!". Canio then stabs Silvio. The famous final line of the opera is:
La Commedia è finita! – "The play is over!".
Question on assignment of the final line 
In the original manuscript, Tonio sang this final line, which parallels the Prologue, also sung by Tonio. The appropriation of this final line by Canio dates back to 1895. John Wright has analysed the dramaturgy of the opera in the context of assignment of the final line, and concluded that the original assignment of the final line to Tonio is the most consistent and appropriate assignment. Wright has contended that Tonio shows more deliberate control in his manipulation of the other characters in order to obtain revenge upon Nedda, after she has rejected him, and is more aware of the demarcation between life and art. By contrast, Canio is unaware of the behind-the-scenes manipulations and surrenders control of his perception of the difference between life and art as the opera proceeds.
In the present day, the assignment of the final line to Canio has continued to be standard. Several of the few exceptions, where Tonio sang the final line, include a 1968 RAI-TV production directed by Herbert von Karajan, the HMV recording conducted by Riccardo Muti (EMI CMS7 63650-2), and the Philips recording also conducted by Muti (Philips 0289 434 1312), in conjunction with live performances in Philadelphia in February 1992.
The orchestra consists of 2 flutes, 1 piccolo, 2 oboes, 1 cor anglais, 2 clarinets, 1 bass clarinet, 3 bassoons, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, 1 tuba, 2 harps, timpani, tubular bells, percussion (triangle, cymbals, bass drum, glockenspiel) and strings. Additionally, there is an onstage violin, oboe, trumpet, and bass drum. Also included in the final pages of the score is a part in the percussion section marked "T.T." (surprisingly not assigned in the instrumentation page at the beginning) which leads us to assume that it is actually a tam-tam (partly because Mascagni used one, although to much greater effect, at the final moments of Cavalleria rusticana). It is given three strokes right after the announcement that "The comedy is over".
In 1907, Pagliacci became the first opera to be recorded in its entirety, with the Puerto Rican tenor Antonio Paoli as Canio and under Leoncavallo's personal supervision. In 1931, it became the first complete opera to be filmed with sound, in a now obscure version starring the tenor Fernando Bertini, in his only film, as Canio, and the San Carlo Opera Company.
- The title is sometimes incorrectly rendered in English with a definite article as I pagliacci. "Pagliacci" is the Italian plural for "clowns", and "i" is the corresponding plural definite article; in correct Italian an article is put in front of the title when referring to an opera even though such article may not be part of the title.
- Leoncavallo, R. (November 1902). "How I Wrote "Pagliacci"". The North American Review 175 (552): 652–654. JSTOR 25119331.
- Dryden, p. 5.
- Sansone, Matteo (1989). "The 'Verismo' of Ruggero Leoncavallo: A Source Study of Pagliacci". Music and Letters 70 (3): 342–362. Retrieved 2012-07-22.
- Dryden, p. 37.
- Dryden, pp. 39–40.
- Phillips-Matz, p. 196
- According to Konrad Dryden, the original spelling of the character's name was "Peppe". Dryden, p. 38.
- Wright, John (Summer 1978). "'La Commedia è finita' – An Examination of Leoncavallo's Pagliacci". Italica 55 (2): 167–178. JSTOR 478969.
- Daniel Webster (1992-02-02). "A Grand Finale: Two Titans - Muti And Pavarotti - Are Collaborating For The Philadelphia Orchestra's Performance And Recording Of "I Pagliacci."". Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved 2013-04-23.
- Dryden, Konrad. Leoncavallo: Life and Works. The Scarecrow Press (Plymouth, UK), ISBN 978-0-8108-5880-0 (2007).
- Haggin, Bernard H., Converations with Toscanini, New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1959 ISBN 9780818012198
- Phillips-Matz, Mary Jane. Washington National Opera 1956–2006. Washington, D.C.: Washington National Opera, 2006. ISBN 0-9777037-0-3.
- Michael Sims, "Cavalleria rusticana, I Pagliacci (sic), and the Verismo Style", Concert Opera Boston, programme notes (accessed 21 May 2007)
- The Durbeck Archive, page on 1931 film of Pagliacci
- List of Pagliacci recordings on operadis-opera-discography.org, as of 2009