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I Pagliacci

I Pagliacci (The Clowns) is an opera in two acts and a prologue by Ruggiero Leoncavallo. The libretto, by the composer, is based on a true story. It premiered in Milan in 1892. It is often performed in a double bill with Cavalleria Rusticana by Pietro Mascagni.

Table of contents
1 Cast
2 Synopsis



Setting: Near Montalto, in Calabria, August 15, 1865.

Act I

Near the village. The curtain ascends during the overture, and from behind a second curtain Tonio appears as Prologue. (Tonio: "A word allow me!") He explains the character of the performance in a serious man­ner as an actual occurrence, and the performance begins.

The primitive theatre of the village comedians is erected and the actors parade in fantastic costumes to the great delight of the villagers. (Chorus: "This way they come, with fife and drum.") Tonio, who resides in the village, offers his hand to assist Nedda in alighting, but is assaulted by Canio, who boxes his ears, swearing vengeance. The peasants ask the actors to drink with them. Canio and Beppo accept, while Tonio remains with Nedda. Amid the good-natured raillery of the villagers Canio declares solemnly that as clown he will take part in any joke, but will resent any insult to his honour as a husband. The angelus is heard. (Chorus: "Ding-dong! The shadows fall!") He plainly evinces his fiery temperament. (Canio: "Such a game is hardly worth the playing.") Nedda, who is untrue to her husband, trembles at the words of Canio (Nedda: "How fierce he looked"), and, to conceal her fears, sings. (Nedda: "As the songbirds soar.") The ugly Tonio remains and becomes offensive in his attentions to Nedda, whereupon she strikes him with a whip, which drives him to frenzy. (Tonio: "I know you hate me.") He departs, swearing revenge.

Silvio approaches Nedda; they love each other (Silvio: "Why hast thou taught me?"), and Silvio wins Nedda through the ardour of his love and induces her to fly with him at night. Tonio, who has been listening to their oonversation, calls Canio and Beppo, and with great difficulty, Silvio escapes, unrecognised by the pursuing clown. Returning, Canio, dagger in hand, demands from Nedda the name of her lover. Tonio whispers that the lover will surely attend the performance and will then be detected. Canio in despair prepares for the performance. (Canio: "To jest with my heart maddened with sorrow.")

Act II

The comedy begins before the assembled crowd. Columbine, represented by Nedda, collects the money, and warns Silvio, who is present. The play begins. (Harlequin: "O Columbine.") Canio stumbles confusedly through his part, and again demands from Nedda the name of her seducer. When she replies lightly, hoping to disarm him (Nedda: "I never knew you were so witty"), he seizes a knife from the table, and stabs Nedda, who tries to escape in the crowd. As Silvio comes to her aid, Canio recognises him, and plunges the knife in his heart. (Canio: "No Punchinello am I — but a man!") All are filled with horror and dismay, and stand irresolute, not knowing what to do. Tonio, coming forward, gravely dismisses the audience, saying with grim cynicism, "The comedy is played."