Saturday, September 17, 2011; Hempstead House on the Sands Point Preserve, Long Island NY
Libretto and Music by Ruggero Leoncavallo
- Canio: Stephen Mark Brown
- Nedda: Mary Petro
- Tonio: Daniel Klein
- Beppe: Jacob Feldman
- Silvio: Robert Garner
Pagliacci is a play within a play. The main characters of the opera [Canio, the Clown; Nedda, his wife; Tonio and Beppe the bit players] travel in a caravan bringing vulgar farce to the country people of Calabria. Their play is a comedy about a jealous husband and an unfaithful wife. But when art imitates life, it is not a laughing matter. Nedda shuns the advances of the hunchback Tonio and in revenge he reveals her secret affair with the dashing Silvio. When Canio confronts the guilty pair during the performance… La Commedia e finita! (The comedy is finished!)
Place: Calabria, Italy
Tonio, in his guise as Taddeo, comes out and explains to the audience that what they will see is a slice of actual life; that actors have feelings and that this is a show about real living and breathing people.
A commedia troupe enters the village, and the villagers cheer. Canio describes the night’s performance— the troubles of Pagliaccio—and says the play will begin an hour before sunset. As Nedda steps down from the cart, Tonio offers his hand, but Canio pushes him aside and helps her down himself. The villagers suggest drinking at the tavern. Canio and Beppe accept, but Tonio stays behind. The villagers tease Canio by saying that Tonio is planning an affair with Nedda. Canio immediately warns everyone that while he may act the foolish husband in the play, in real life he will not tolerate other men making advances to Nedda. Shocked, a villager asks Canio if he really suspects her of infidelity. He says no, and sweetly kisses her on the forehead. As the church bells ring vespers, he and Beppe leave for the tavern, and Nedda is left alone.
Nedda, who has been cheating on Canio, is frightened by the vehemence of Canio’s threat, but a bird’s song comforts her (Stridono lassu). Tonio returns and confesses his love for her, and she laughs at him. Enraged, Tonio grabs Nedda; she takes a whip, strikes him and drives him off. Silvio, who is Nedda’s lover, comes from the tavern, where he has left Canio and Beppe drinking. He asks Nedda to elope with him after the performance and, though she is afraid, she agrees. Tonio, who has been eavesdropping, leaves to reveal their plot to Canio so that he might catch Silvio and Nedda together. Canio and Tonio return and, as Silvio escapes, Nedda calls after him, “I will always be yours!”
Canio chases Silvio but does not catch him and does not see his face. He demands that Nedda tell him the name of her lover, but she refuses. When he threatens her with a knife, Beppe disarms him. Beppe then insists that they begin to prepare for the performance. Tonio tells Canio that her lover will surely give himself away at the play. Canio is left alone to put on his costume and prepare to laugh (Vesti la giubba – “Put on the costume”).
As the crowd arrives, Nedda, costumed as Colombina, collects their money. She whispers a warning to Silvio, and the crowd cheers as the play begins.
Colombina’s husband Pagliaccio has gone away until morning, and Taddeo is at the market. She anxiously awaits her lover Arlecchino, who soon serenades her from beneath her window. Taddeo returns and confesses his love, but she mocks him and lets Arlecchino in through the window. He boxes Taddeo’s ears and kicks him out of the room. The audience laughs.
Arlecchino and Colombina dine, and he passes her a sleeping potion, explaining that when Pagliaccio returns, Colombina should drug him her husband and then elope with him. Taddeo bursts in, warning that Pagliaccio is suspicious of his wife and is about to return. As Arlecchino escapes through the window, Colombina again tells him, “I will always be yours!”
As Canio enters the stage, he hears Nedda and exclaims “Name of God! Those same words!” He tries to continue the play, but loses control and demands to know her lover’s name. Nedda, hoping to continue the play, calls Canio by his stage name “Pagliaccio” to remind him of the audience’s presence. He answers: No! Pagliaccio non son! and states that if his face is pale, it is not from the stage makeup but from the shame she has brought to him. The crowd, impressed by his emotional and very real performance, cheers him.
Nedda, trying again to continue the play, admits that she has been visited by the very innocent Arlecchino. Canio, furious and forgetting the play, demands to know the name of her lover. Nedda swears she will never tell him, and the crowd finally realizes they are not acting. Silvio begins to fight his way toward the stage. Canio, grabbing a knife from the table, stabs Nedda. As she dies she calls: “Help! Silvio!” Canio then stabs Silvio and declares: La Commedia è finita! – “The play is over!”