If You Are A Beginner to Opera, Pagliacci is The Opera to See

The opera Pagliacci is an excellent opera to see. Pagliacci has all the elements of a successful opera and provides a good introduction to what is the opera?

Because of its popularity as an opera, Pagliacci pizza outlets have sprung up around the world. The Pagliacci pizza menu sometimes even mirrors the opera theme.

In Italian, I Pagliacci means “Clowns”, whereas Il Pagliacci translates as “The Clowns”. For this reason, Pagliacci, the opera, is sometimes referred to as the Italian opera about clowns and is one of the most famous Italian operas.

In Europe, Pagliacci (The Clowns) is often staged alone. In the U.S. and Canada, it is usually presented as a double-bill, together with Cavalleria Rusticana (Rustic Chivalry).

The opera has the clown character Canio, who sings the famous tenor aria “Vesti la giubba”. It has Tonio, an evil clown who desires revenge. And, it has only one female clown character – Nedda.

Many famous opera singers have sung in the opera Pagliacci by Ruggero Leoncavallo: Luciano Pavarotti, Enrico Caruso, Placido Domingo, Mario Lanza, Modest Menzinsky.

Listen to Pagliacci opera music online:

View an opera video clip of the opera Pagliacci:


What Makes the Opera Pagliacci a Good Beginner’s Must-See?

Opera Pagliacci
Opera Pagliacci

These are some of the features and characteristics that make Pagliacci a good beginner’s opera.

  1. For an opera, Pagliacci is short – only 75 minutes of music.
  2. There is an evil clown, a jealous clown and a disloyal clown.
  3. The opera characters are based on the Italian commedia dell’arte tradition.
  4. There is a very recognizable tenor aria “Vesti la giubba”.
  5. The composer and librettist, Ruggiero Leoncavallo, plagiarized the plot and music.
  6. Pagliacci premiered in 1892, at a time when opera was all the rage.
  7. It has only one female character, a soprano.
  8. It has a set within a set.
  9. It has 2 deaths in the end – very short and quick.
  10. It has all the characteristics of a modern-day soap opera –family life, sexual dramas, marriage breakdown, extramarital affairs.

In 1892 Leoncavallo Premiered His Opera Pagliacci and…

Pagliacci Clown
Pagliacci Clown

3 other opera composers premiered their operas as well – one in German, one in Russian and one in French.

Leoncavallo claimed that the opera Pagliacci was based on a true life event from his personal past. However, there is a great deal of controversy surrounding Leoncavallo’s claim. Interestingly, some historians claim that Madama Butterfly by Giacomo Puccini (1858 – 1924) is also based on a true story that took place in Japan in 1892.

Young opera singers, who would go on to become famous opera singers were developing their careers: Modest Mencinsky, Gemma Bellincioni, Mattia Battistini, Adamo Didur, Solomiya Krushelnytska.

Young Ukrainian composers were beginning their difficult and arduous career paths. 1892 was the year that the Tsarist regime of Alexander III in Moscow issued a decree forbidding the translation of all Russian language works into Ukrainian. In time, Yaroslav Yaroslavenko, Mykola Leontovych and Kyrylo Stetsenko would endure prosecution.

Continue reading about these opera and classical music events that took place in 1892 when Leoncavallo premiered his opera Pagliacci.


The Opera Pagliacci Has an Evil Clown

Evil Clown in Opera Pagliacci
Evil Clown in Opera Pagliacci

Traditionally, we think of clowns as being funny. Their job at parties and circus events is to make everyone laugh.

However, not all clowns are known to be good. Evil clowns in films and stage productions may look like your average clown, but their behaviour is not humorous. Evil clowns, who use unusual elements to instill fear and loathing, are the classic villains.

Some children and adults see nothing funny about a clown. Instead, their white faces and grotesque, painted smiles instill fear and loathing. This primal fear of clowns is known as coulrophobia.

Find out more about Tonio, the evil clown in Pagliacci.


The Opera Pagliacci Appears to be Based on a Lie

The Leoncavallo Opera
The Leoncavallo Opera

Ruggero Leoncavallo was slapped with a lawsuit for plagiarizing the plot for the opera Pagliacci. In his defense, Leoncavallo claimed that the opera plot was based on a childhood experience.

But, evidence seems to suggest that Leoncavallo lied. There are a lot of similarities between the works of:

and the plot of the opera Pagliacci by Leoncavallo.

Find out the details of the controversy surrounding Leoncavallo and the clown plot for Pagliacci.