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Ruggiero Leoncavallo


Pagliacci - Leoncavallo
Canio: Placido Domingo
Nedda: Teresa Stratas
Tonio: Juan Pons
Peppe: Florindo Andreolli
Orchestra e Coro del Teatro Alla Scala
Conductor: Georges Pretre

One usually thinks of Pagliacci as beginning with the famous Prologue—Il prologo, as Italian baritones denominate it quite simply. But as a matter of fact, there is a fairly long introduction to the Prologue, and in it are heard all the themes that will later be developed in the score—the love theme, the jealousy theme, the players' theme, etc. For the young composer, writing in the 1890's had been bitten by the Wagner bug and was using the leitmotiv as skillfully as any other fashionable opera man. He was also bitten by the verismo bug, which means that his story would deal with common folks doing ordinary everyday things—like making love to other men's wives and committing murder.



Opera in two acts by Ruggiero Leoncavallo
with libretto in Italian by the composer


Canio, the heavy lead of the players
Nedda, his wife and leading lady
Tonio, the clown
Beppe, the juvenile lead
Silvio, a villager

Time: the Feast of the Assumption (August 15) in the late 

Place: on a crossroad near Montalto, a village in Southern Italy

First performance at Milan, May 21, 1892




Tenor. Husband of Nedda. Leader of a troupe of strolling players. One of his players, Tonio, himself in love with Nedda, tells Canio that she is having an affair with a villager, Silvio. During a performance of their play, Canio (as Pagliaccio) orders Nedda (as Columbine) to reveal the name of her lover. When she refuses, he stabs her. Silvio tries to save her and Canio kills him also. Canio tells the audience: La commedia è finita (‘The comedy is ended’). Aria: Vesti la giubba (‘On with the motley’), sung as he prepares to play the clown, despite his desolation over his wife's affair. Created (1892) by Fiorello Giraud.

Enrico Caruso - Vesti La Giubba

Mario Lanza - Pagliacci: Vesti la giubba

Franco Corelli: Amazing! Vesti la Giubba

Placido Domingo - Recitar...Vesti La Giubba

Beniamino Gigli - Vesti la Giubba

Mario Lanza - Pagliacci: Vesti la giubba

Luciano Pavarotti.  Recitar. Vesti la giubba

José Carreras. Recitar. 



Soprano. Wife of Canio, the leader of a troupe of strolling players. She is having an affair with a villager, Silvio, but refuses to reveal his name. As Columbine in the play, she is stabbed by the clown Pagliaccio (Canio). Dying, she whispers her lover's name. Canio kills him also. Created (1892) by Adelina Stehle.



Baritone. Disabled member of a troupe of strolling players, led by Canio, whose wife, Nedda, Tonio covets. Nedda rejects him and in revenge he tells Canio that she has a lover, with tragic results. In the prologue, he informs the audience of the drama to follow: Si può? Signore, Signori (‘By your leave, ladies and gentlemen’). Created (1892) by Victor Maurel.



Tenor. A player in Canio's troupe. Harlequin in the play. Created (1892) by Francesco Daddi.



Baritine. A villager in love with Nedda, wife of Canio. He tries to save Nedda when Canio stabs her during a performance of their play, but Canio kills him also. Created (1892) by Mario Ancona.



Suddenly, in the midst of this orchestral introduction, the character of Tonio, the clown, steps out before the curtain and speaks directly to us. He tells us how the opera was written— from the composer’s heart. And in fact, Ruggiero Leoncavallo, who wrote both the libretto and the music, based his story on a criminal case that his own father, a district judge, had tried. Then Tonio goes on to explain that actors have feelings and passions just like everyone else. That is the theme of the entire opera. Finally, Tonio rings up the curtain—at which point there is great applause, for Tonio has finished the Prologue and sung a high G.

Ruggero Leoncavallo - Pagliacci


Now the opera itself begins. In a small village in Southern Italy a crowd welcomes a troupe of traveling players. There are shouts as the troupe comes in, and the leader—a powerful tenor much given to hamming—invites everyone to come to the performance that evening. When Tonio, the clown, tries to help the leading lady out of the wagon, the leader kicks him aside. For this leading lady, Nedda, is the wife of the principal, Canio; and Canio warns everyone off his private preserves in the aria Un td gioco. It is not a good idea, he says, to make love to his wife—not anywhere outside of a play, that is. Then he goes off to the village for a drink with friends, and the pretty Bell Chorus is sung by those who remain.

Now Nedda, the leading lady, is left alone; and she sings a happy song to the birds, known as the Balatella. It shows her essentially carefree nature. At its close—enter the villain. This is our friend Tonio, the clown, who is an ugly hunchback. He tries desperately to make love to Nedda; but she first laughs at him, and then, when he persists, she sets on him with a whip. Vowing vengeance, he stumps off to the village to join his master.

There follows a long and melodious love duet, for Nedda has a swain in this village named Silvio. As the duet closes, they make an appointment to meet that night after the performance.

Unfortunately, Tonio has brought back his master just in time to hear those last words. In fearful anger Canio chases after Silvio, but he cannot find him. When he returns, he demands to know the name of Nedda’s lover. Steadfastly she refuses to give it, until Canio, fearfully enraged, takes out a wicked-looking knife to threaten her. Nedda’s life is saved, however, just in time, by Beppe, another actor in the troupe, the one who plays juvenile leads. He reminds Canio and the others that it is time to prepare for the performance; and as the rest go off, Canio is left alone.

It is then that he has his famous laugh-clown-laugh aria, Vesti la giubba. Though his heart is breaking, he knows that the play must go on. Sobbing with anguish, he enters the now-hated theater to dress for his part.


Ruggero Leoncavallo - Pagliacci


Before Act II there is an orchestral intermezzo based on the Prologue. This reminds us of the theme of the opera—that life off the stage is very much like life on it. When the action starts, the villagers are busily assembling for the evening performance outside the temporary stage set up on the roadside. Their hubbub is hushed as the play-within-a-play commences. Nedda, in the role of Columbine, listens to a serenade sung off-stage by Beppe, who plays the role of Columbine’s lover, Harlequin.

Soon Taddeo—the clown, played by Tonio—comes in to make love to her, just as he did in real life only that afternoon. He is again repulsed, but this time he good-naturedly blesses the lovers. Columbine and Harlequin thereupon sing a pretty duet over their evening meal, when Taddeo, in mock terror, interrupts them. Columbine’s husband, Pag-liaccio, is coming! Quickly Harlequin exits by the window. But Pagliaccio enters just in time to hear them arrange a rendezvous. This, again, is exactly what had happened that afternoon; in fact, exactly the same words are repeated. Canio tries hard to act the part of Pagliaccio in the play, but the parallel is too terrible for him to bear.


Suddenly he tears off part of his costume and cries: No, Pagliaccio non son: “No, I am Pagliaccio no longer.” Pitifully, he recalls the early days of his love for Nedda—and the crowd applauds his realistic acting. Now Nedda tries to make him come to his senses by taking up the lines of the play. But Canio becomes more and more furious, demanding to know the name of her lover. Finally he draws out his terrible knife, and before anyone can interfere, he has driven it into her back. With her dying breath Nedda calls for Silvio’s help. Silvio rushes up, out of the audience—only to meet the same terrible knife. As Canio realizes that he has committed a double murder, he turns brokenly to the audience. “La commedia k finita” he sobs.

“The comedy is finished.” And the orchestra blares out the laugh-clown-laugh theme.


Ruggero Leoncavallo - Pagliacci

Teatro di San Carlo - 2011
Coro e Orchestra del Teatro di San Carlo
Direttore al Coro: Salvatore Caputo
Direttore d'Orchestra: Donato Renzetti

Kristin Lewis - Nedda
Carl Tanner - Canio
Dario Solari - Tonio
Francesco Marsiglia - Beppe
Simone Piazzola - Silvio

Acrobats: Pagliacci in Naples: Évelyne Allard, Moira Albertalli, Karen Bernal, Helena Bittencourt, Annie-Kim Déry, Stéphane Gentilini, Mariève Hémond, David Menes.

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