Tonio, the Fool - Clown in the Opera Pagliacci

The most famous opera clown in Pagliacci (sometimes referred to as il Pagliacci) is the tenor Canio, who sings «Vesti la giubba».

Before you purchase Pagliacci opera tickets you should know that it has been called:

  • the clown opera
  • the sad clown opera
  • the opera with a clown
  • the Italian clown opera
  • the white faced clown opera.

Tonio, a baritone, is also one of the clowns in Ruggero Leoncavallo’s opera Pagliacci. Below, you can view an excerpt from an opera Pagliacci video featuring the clowns Nedda and Tonio.

The Pagliacci opera by Ruggero Leoncavallo, written in 1892, is a great favourite among opera lovers.


Why Does Tonio Want Revenge?

The clowns arrive in the village. The cart stops and Tonio offers his hand to assist Nedda to step down. This upsets Canio, Nedda’s husband and he slaps Tonio. The villagers laugh at Tonio. Tonio threatens revenge.

-La pagherai! brigante!
-You will pay! You bastard! (literary: You bandit!)

The video above is of a performance at the Lviv Opera and Ballet Theatre in Ukraine on April 17, 2010. Nedda is Veronika Kolomishcheva, Tonio is Stepan Tarasovych, conducted by Myron Yusypovych. The scene is described below.

Tonio approaches Nedda as she is singing. He professes his lust for her and attempts to seduce her. Nedda tries to put him off, loses patience, strikes him with a whip and openly rejects him. Tonio threatens revenge.

-Nedda, giuro… me la pagherai!
-Nedda, I swear… you will pay!


Does Tonio Achieve His Vengeful Mission?

Nedda is meeting with her lover, Silvio. Tonio has brought Canio, Nedda’s husband to the spot so that he can overhear their tryst. Overwrought, Canio persues Silvio as he runs away. Tonio laughs.

Canio returns not having seen Silvio’s face. He is distraught. Tonio tells him to calm himself because sooner or later the lover will reveal himself.

In the end, Canio in a fit of jealous rage kills Nedda, his wife and Silvio, her lover. Tonio, knowing exactly what is happening (having helped to bring it about) refuses to intervene.

-Peppe: Bisogna uscire, Tonio. Ho paura!...
-Tonio: Taci sciocci.
-Peppe: We have to go out there, Tonio. I’m scared!...
-Tonio: Shut up, fool!

Tonio in Pagliacci
Tonio in Pagliacci

While preparing to conduct Pagliacci, after an almost two year hiatus, I once again thought about the story-line of this operatic drama. Specifically, I considered the personalities and their types… and my thoughts drifted.

In the end, was Tonio happy? Is there satisfaction after a successful revenge? What are the psychological characterics of having achieved a planned revenge? And after all, what is this phenomenon called «revenge»? Does revenge differ in a highly developed society in comparison with a more primitive society, taking into account all aspects of such societies – from quality of life to the web2 world of today?

As far as I'm concerned, Tonio should probably commit suicide and hang himself in the next few days... But, then the opera doesn't take us that far.

So be it! The bells are chimming! It's time to enter the orchestra pit!

(Myron Yusypovych blog entry – February 1, 2009)