Pagliacci  

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The Birth of Venus (detail), a 1486 painting by Sandro Botticelli
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The Birth of Venus (detail), a 1486 painting by Sandro Botticelli

Pagliacci (Clowns) is an opera consisting of a prologue and two acts written and composed by Ruggero Leoncavallo. It recounts the tragedy of a jealous husband in a commedia dell'Arte troupe. Pagliacci premiered at the Teatro Dal Verme in Milan on May 21, 1892, conducted by Arturo Toscanini with Adelina Stehle as Nedda, Fiorello Giraud as Canio, Victor Maurel as Tonio, and Mario Ancona as Silvio. Since 1893 it has usually been performed in a so-called "Cav and Pag" double bill with Pietro Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana. The only one of Leoncavallo's operas which has remained in the standard operatic repertory, Pagliacci is the 14th most performed opera in North America according to Opera America. Its name is sometimes incorrectly rendered as I Pagliacci (The Clowns).

Pagliacci in popular culture

  • During the 19281930 Broadway run of the Marx Brothers' last full stage play, Animal Crackers, Groucho Marx would recite a self-penned poem (set to music) during a scene change. The poem is as close to a philosophy on life as Groucho Marx ever wrote, even if it is mostly made up of non sequiturs and puns. The poem concludes with the line, "So be a real life Pagliacci and laugh, clown, laugh". The poem is not included in the 1930 film version of Animal Crackers, but it is recited on Groucho's 1974 comedy album An Evening With Groucho and is reprinted in Robert S. Bader's collection, Groucho Marx: and Other Short Stories and Tall Tales.
  • In the Marx Brothers film A Night at the Opera, the character Rodolfo Lassparri has just finished performing Pagliacci and is still in his clown costume. The arrogant Lassparri, still upset by a previous argument, turns to Groucho and asks "Well, what have you got to say?" Groucho, in typical fashion, answers: "Just this: can you sleep on your stomach with such big buttons on your pajamas?"
  • Later in the same film, Groucho sings a couple of lines of "Vesti la giubba" with his own lyrics: Ridi Pagliacci ... I love you very muchee ... !
  • The song, "Me Myself and I" by the Dramatics (on one of their best selling albums, "Dramatic Jackpot"), had a line which referred to Pagliacci. The line's words were, "Just like old Pagliacci, we're the life of every party."
  • In an episode of Seinfeld titled "The Opera", the four principles attend a performance of Pagliacci starring Luciano Pavarotti. Elaine's stalker, "Crazy" Joe Davola, buys a ticket from Kramer and sits near Elaine while dressed in a clown suit.
  • In the Smokey Robinson & the Miracles song "Tears of a Clown," the singer (with a questionable grasp of Italian) likens himself to "Pagliacci."
  • In the film The Untouchables, Al Capone goes to see Pagliacci and later toasts the star of the production. Specifically, Al Capone (Robert DeNiro) is seen, in his opera box, crying at the performance of the aria, when his henchmen enter and whisper in his ear the news that he has been waiting for: Jim Malone (Sean Connery) has been murdered by Capone's men. Laughing at this news, Capone simultaneously weeps at the tragic Pagliaccio on the stage. This neatly mirrors the song itself: the clown who simultaneously laughs and cries.
  • Woody Allen's Zelig, a film about a man who adapts his personality and skills to those around him, shows a photo of Leonard Zelig (played by Mr. Allen) as Pagliaccio. (It is actually a cleverly modified photo of Caruso in the same costume.)
  • "Vesti la giubba" is used in the "Dabba Don" episode of the cartoon Harvey Birdman in a montage depicting violent crimes.
  • In The Simpsons episode "The Italian Bob", Krusty The Klown is featured singing in a performance of Pagliacci. He changes the lyrics of "Vesti la giubba" to "No more Rice Krispies... we are out of Rice Krispies..." referring to a television advertisement from the 1960s.
  • In Season 2, Episode 4 of the Comedy Central show Strangers With Candy, Stephen Colbert's character is seen dressed as a clown and weeping while "Vesti la giubba" plays in the background.
  • In the comics and its adaptations, the opera is a favorite target of The Joker to the point of being cliché.
  • The opening to Queen's song "It's A Hard Life" is based on "Vesti la giubba".
  • In the Playstation 2 game "Twisted Metal Black", one of the characters, No-Face, was operated while "Vesti la giubba" could be heard in the background.
  • The song Mr Sandman contains the lines
    Mr. Sandman (male voice: "Yeeees?") bring us a dream
    Give her a pair of eyes with a "come-hither" gleam
    Give her a lonely heart like Pagliacci
    And lots of wavy hair like Liberace
  • In CSI episode "revenge is best served cold" there is a scene where Grissom is listening to Vesti la Giubba - Pagliacci
  • Alan Moore's graphic novel Watchmen includes a joke about Pagliacci. The joke was about a patient going to a doctor and telling him that he's depressed. The doctor suggests he go see Pagliacci, it would pick him up. The patient cries and says that he is, in fact, Pagliacci.
  • In Green Lantern v3 # 9 - 12, a race of clown-like aliens arms fools with Green Lantern rings to discredit the Green Lantern Corps. These aliens are called the "Poglachi."
  • In the third season Stargate SG-1 episode "Shades of Grey," the aria "Vesti la giubba" from Pagliacci is playing in the background when Maybourne comes to take O'Neill.
  • Nancy Wilson sings of Pagliacci in (I'm Afraid) The Masquerade is Over (Herb Magidson / Allie Wruble)

I guess I'll have to play Pagliacci
And get myself a clown's disguise
And learn to laugh like Pagliacci
With tears in my eyes
  • A Spike Jones song, Pal-Yat-Chee, jokes about several cowboys who went to see Pagliacci, thinking it was a cowboy play.
  • In episode 38 of Camp Lazlo, "Taking Care of Gretchen". Lazlo notes the authenticity of an Italian restaurant, saying "They even have a sad singing clown!" as Pagliacci's "Vesti La Guibba" plays.




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Pagliacci" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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