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10/23/09 at 8 p.m.
10/25/09 at 2 p.m.
Opera in two acts
Music and Libretto by Ruggiero Leoncavallo
World Première: Teatro Dal Verme in Milan on May 21, 1892
Sung in Italian with English supertitles
Canio, head of the troupe
Nedda, Canio’s wife in love with Silvio
Silvio, Nedda’s lover
Tonio, the fool
About the Opera
In Pagliacci (“Players” or “Clowns”), a world-famous Italian opera written and composed by Ruggiero Leoncavallo, betrayal leads to bloody revenge in this story-within-a-story. Canio, playing the role of the clown, is a jealous husband who must bring laughter to his audience even after learning of his wife’s infidelity. Tragic consequences ensue as theatre and real life blur in this verismo shocker. The work features one of opera's most well-known and beloved arias, “Vesti la giubba.” The production will be accompanied by the Columbus Symphony Orchestra.
The time is the early 20th century on The Feast
of the Assumption on August 15th
Tonio addresses the audience (Si può?... Si può?... Signore! Signori! ... Un nido di memorie). He states the playwright's purpose: to depict real life, real love, and real hatred. He asks the opera goers to look at the actors as real people with feelings, and not simply as actors in costume and make-up. After all, actors experience the same passions as other human beings.
A clearing on the outskirts of town
Afternoon marks the arrival of a commedia troupe on a mid-August day. As townspeople assemble, they are delighted, for they know a play will be presented later that evening. Canio announces the performance time: ventitre ore (about an hour before sunset). He entices the crowd to come by hinting at the play's content: frenzy of the famed Pagliaccio and how he gets revenge. Tonio, a member of the troupe, tries to help Nedda, but Canio shoves him aside and embarrasses him in front of the crowd. Tonio swears revenge for the embarrassment and stalks off. As the people disperse, a few villagers invite Canio for a drink at the tavern. Beppe (another member of the troupe) joins them, but the brooding Tonio stays behind. A villager jokes to Canio that Tonio is lusting after Canio's wife, Nedda, and is staying behind so he can steal away a few romantic moments with her. Canio warns that joking around with him like this is not a good idea (Un tal gioco, credetemi): as Pagliaccio in the commedia, he only would preach a comical sermon to his wife. But in real life, Canio assures them, if he caught his wife with a lover, things would end quite differently for her.
As the church bell signals the evening Vespers service, Canio and Beppe retreat to the tavern with a few of the men and everyone else goes off to church (Chorus of the Bells: Dondin, suona vespero, ragazze e garzon). Nedda is left alone. She is upset over her husband's threat (Qual fiamma avea nel guardo!), but the late afternoon sun soon softens her fears and she abandons herself in a song about the freedom of the birds in the sky (Stridono lassù liberamente). Tonio emerges from the shadows, where he's been listening. He professes his love for her, but she mocks him (Sei là, credea chete ne fossi andato). She is repulsed by him, and tells him that he'll have his chance to profess his love for her – only on the stage in the play. Finally, she chases him away with a whip. Again, Tonio swears revenge and stalks off. Silvio, Nedda's secret lover, arrives. He convinces her to run off with him (Silvio! a quest'ora… che imprudenza!), and the lovers passionately embrace.
Eavesdropping on the lovers, Tonio runs off to the tavern to warn Canio. Canio returns in time to hear his wife calling after her fleeing lover "'till tonight, and forever yours I shall be." Jealous and brandishing a knife, he chases after the fleeing man. Now avenged, Tonio enjoys watching the scene play out. Canio returns empty handed and demands that his wife reveal the name of her lover. But not even his dagger-laced threats free a name from her lips. Beppe calms the troupe leader down and sends Nedda off to prepare for the show. Now alone, Canio ponders his obligation to laugh and make others laugh while his heart is breaking (Vesti la giubba).
Later the same evening
After the Vespers service at church, the crowd assembles to enjoy the evening's entertainment. Silvio arrives to see the show as well – and to see his lover. As Nedda warns him to take care not to be noticed by Canio, Silvio confirms their midnight rendezvous.
The play-within-the-play begins; it is the story of the opera itself. Colombina (Nedda) is positive that her husband, Pagliaccio (Canio) is away. Soon, her young lover, Arlecchino (Beppe), arrives and romances her with a serenade (O Colombina, il tenero fido Arlecchin). The love-stricken Taddeo (Tonio) enters the scene and tries his hand at romancing Colombina. But she, as in real life, repels his advances and even mocks him. She gives a signal for Arlecchino to come throw him out. Taddeo leaves the scene and, to the crowd's amusement, announces that he will keep watch outside. Arlecchino has brought a sleeping potion and a plan: the lovers plot to slip the potion to Pagliaccio; while he's doped up, they will escape together. From his hideout, Taddeo bursts in announcing that Pagliaccio is returning, and is angry. Both Taddeo and Arlecchino make a hasty departure. But as Arlecchino flees, and just in time for Pagliaccio to hear her, Colombina whispers to him, "'till tonight, and forever yours I shall be," the very words Canio heard his real-life wife utter when he overheard her that very afternoon.
At this moment, Canio cannot help interjecting his real-life unhappiness into the scene as he portrays Pagliaccio: he demands that his wife reveal the name of her lover. Nedda stays in her character, Colombina, and tries to continue with the play by calling Canio by his stage name: "Pagliaccio… Pagliaccio!" The audience is further amused. Canio rips off his smock and savagely shouts that he is not Pagliaccio any longer. "My face is white with shame and frenzy for revenge." (No! Pagliaccio non son!) He again insists that she reveal the name of her lover. Canio now realizes his defeat and chastises Nedda by saying, "I happily imposed every sacrifice on my heart and trustingly, I believed more in you than in God himself." Not at all sensing that the "play" has transitioned into a real-life situation for its lead player, the audience marvels at how very true the scene seems; they even shout "bravo!" Still in character as Colombina and still playing out the drama, Nedda tells her enraged husband her lover is Arlecchino – her lover in the play! Canio is not satisfied and becomes completely lost in rage. Silvio now begins to realize that Canio is no longer acting and senses true danger for Nedda. He steps forward. Canio produces a knife and stabs his unfaithful wife, still demanding that she reveal the name of her lover. In the moment of her death, Nedda chokes out, "Help! Silvio!" Now confident of knowing the name of his wife's lover, Canio stabs him, too. Tonio peeks out from his hiding place, turns to the audience, and declares, "the comedy is over!"
Kevin R. Lohr
Director of Production, Opera Columbus
Artistic and Production Staff
Conductor: William Boggs
Stage Director: William Florescu
Projected Titles written by: Kevin R. Lohr
Canio: Michael Hayes
Nedda: Robin Follman
Silvio: Sean Anderson
Tonio: Grant Youngblood
Beppe: Benjamin Bunsold
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