Theatre / Pagliacci

Put on your costume,
And powder your face.
The people pay to be here, and they want to laugh.
And if Harlequin shall steal your Columbina,
Laugh, clown, so the crowd will cheer!
Turn your distress and tears into jest,
Your pain and sobbing into a funny face - Ah!
Laugh, clown,
At your broken love!
Laugh at the grief that poisons your heart!
English translation of Vesti la Giubba

The opera with the Sad Clown.

A cornerstone of Italian verismo ("reality") opera, Pagliacci is composer Ruggiero Leoncavallo's first opera, and his only one still regularly performed nowadays. Traditionally, before the opera opens, the hunchback clown Tonio delivers a lengthy prologue: don't treat us as make-believe; we are people of flesh and blood, and art is created with real love and real tears.

The story revolves around a clown, Canio. One day, Canio's troupe of Commedia dell'Arte comes to town, and will put on the peoples' favorite show that evening. When the rest of the troupe go away for a drink, Canio sits by himself, musing how he will not allow himself to be cuckolded and humiliated like Pagliaccio, the character he will be playing. Meanwhile, his wife Nedda worries that Canio may find out about her little secret, and her discomfort deepens with the appearance of Tonio, who professes his love. Nedda spurns his advance and mocks at his ugly appearance. Tonio tries to force himself onto Nedda, but she grabs a whip and strikes him. Tonio swears vengeance.

As Tonio leaves, the villager Silvio, Nedda's sweet-talking darling, comes by. He urges her to elope that night; she is ambivalent. The two share a tender moment together. Of course, Tonio sees all these - and he drags Canio in just in time.

Furious, Canio demands the name of the guy, but Nedda refuses to speak. Other actors urge Canio to calm down.

In front of a large audience during the play - which involves how Colombina (played by Nedda), under the knowing eyes of her servant Taddeo (Tonio), slips a sleeping drought in Pagliaccio's (Canio's) wine so that she can elope with her lover Arlecchino (Peppe, the fourth member of the troupe) - Canio derails the comedy to demand that Nedda comes clean. The crowd marvel at how emotive the performance is, but Nedda knows she is in deep trouble. She desperately tries to keep the play on track, which only fuels Canio's anger. He stabs Nedda on stage. Her dying scream gives away the name of her lover, whom Canio then kills. His vengeance done, Canio announces "La Commedia è finita!" - "The play is over!"

Tropes found in Pagliacci

  • All Part of the Show: The audience initially reacts with delight at how genuine Pagliaccio's performance is until he becomes progressively unhinged and they realize he's not acting.
  • Based on a Great Big Lie: Leoncavallo claimed the opera was based on a real case that his father dealt with, but there is no corroborating evidence whatsoever.
  • B.S.O.D. Song: Vesti la giubba, as Canio is wrought with turmoil over how to process his wife's infidelity while still having to prepare for their performance.
  • Cuckold: Nedda is cheating on Canio.
  • Despair Event Horizon: In most performances, at the end of Vesti la giubba, Canio breaks down sobbing.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: Tonio, who makes advances on a married woman and, failing that, makes sure that his victim's life is ruined.
  • If I Can't Have You: The stance of both Tonio and Canio towards Nedda.
  • Karma Houdini: In the 1994 staging with Luciano Pavarotti as Canio, immediately after the closing line, the camera turns to Tonio on the stage, laughing his head off. His schemes to ruin everyone who wronged him came off perfectly.
  • No Fourth Wall: A frightening, in-story example, as it concludes with Silvio trying to come to Nedda's aid when Canio stabs her, only to be fatally stabbed himself.
  • Plot Parallel: See Show Within a Show.
  • Pop-Cultural Osmosis: You've heard Vesti la Giubba before. Also, this play is a favorite theme for The Joker for his crimes.
    • The Penguinís favorite opera is Pagliacci. While the story of killer clown also appeals to the above rogue, Pagliacci is the story of a man betrayed by the woman he loves who then flies into a murderous rage when confronted by the truth. No wonder Mr. Cobblepot canít help singing along.
    • The matching notes of the lyrics, "Ridi, Pagliaccio, sul tuo amore infranto! (Laugh, clown, at your broken love!)" were invoked by Queen in the opening of their 1984 song, "It's A Hard Life".
  • Sad Clown: Pagliaccio serves as the Trope Codifier.
  • The Show Must Go On: This trope is invoked to provide the first act climax, as Canio has just discovered his wife's infidelity - but is told to get ready for their show, as the troupe can't afford to disappoint the customers.
  • Show Within a Show: Canio's and Nedda's performance is layered with Dramatic Irony due to the plot being nigh-identical to their "real-life" troubles.
  • Yandere: Canio is driven to murder Nedda over her infidelity