Opera Explained: Pagliacci

clown
The Moral?  Never Trust a Clown!

Actors arrive at a village during the Feast of the Assumption, at least that’s my guess. Tonio, the clown, explains to the villagers the plot of the upcoming play because when they shrug and whisper to one another during, it really throws the actors off. The play will be about Pagliaccio, played by Canio, taking revenge upon his wife and her lover. It’s no Wagnerian Rings cycle, but there is a place for a performance with a simple almost stupid plot;unfortunately, television wouldn’t be invented for many years…

Nedda, Canio’s real wife and also the actress that plays his fake wife, is having an affair with a real villager named Silvio… this is an early example of “method acting”. She scorns her husband because he is far too jealous… although, at this point he seems exactly as jealous as he should be. Tonio, who you may remember, is a clown that doesn’t mind dispensing spoilers, also loves Nedda; but, she has a limit to how grotesque her lovers must be and Tonio doesn’t qualify on a good day. The rejected Tonio is furious… or sad… it’s hard to tell because they are all speaking Italian. Regardless, he squeals to Canio about Nedda and Silvio.

pagliacci
You’re trying too hard, man…

Canio cries while he puts on his clown make up. It’s at this point in the opera that it becomes apparent that the Italians of this era really LIKED clowns a LOT more than one might consider “too much”. But, in the great sty of existence, the sow must go on!

That night, during the play within the play, Canio breaks character and confronts his wife in a calm and logical way. And, by “confront” I mean “stabs” and by “calm and logical” I mean, “stabs a few more times”. Silvio, the only male character in this play that isn’t dressed as a clown, rushes onto the stage and is also confronted to death by Canio. The audience is thoroughly enjoying what they think is a very realistic play; but, Canio breaks the fourth wall and tells them that it is all real and they won’t be getting their money back…

Tip: When the clown says, “La commedia e finita!”, this is a great time to make a dash for the parking garage. Nothing much else is about to happen on stage. A little more music, the conductor will make a curtain call during which he will bow deeply with a wide sincere smile on his face that he’s been practicing in the mirror all day. If you can beat the very old people to the parking garage, you’ll avoid gridlock; moreover, you’ll be headed for Virginia early enough to get lost in Washington, DC, then Maryland… before arriving home as the sun comes up.

Hey, let’s go to the opera again in eight years!”

Image result for Deb whittam sunrise
And… home!

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