This giveaway also celebrated the opera’s 110th anniversary. Pagliacci premiered at the Teatro Dal Verme in Milan, conducted by the legendary Arturo Toscanini, then a young conductor of 25. It received mixed critical reviews but was an instant hit with the public, the performance often interrupted by wild applause.
View some scenes from this spectacular Zeffirelli production.
Pagliacci is regarded as the perfection of verismo, or realism – an operatic tradition that began in the late 1800s and peaked in the early 1900s. Verismo operas depict the good, the bad, and the ugly in the everyday lives of ordinary people, or of the “low life” as it is sometimes put; in other words, a melodrama, in stark contrast to the grand themes from myth and legend of the preceding Romantic period. Pagliacci packs the full gamut of human emotions into an hour-and-a-quarter-long thrilling tear-jerker. The two-act opera remains a hit with today’s opera-going public, but most especially when Domingo sings the lead tenor role.
But short though it may be, the work is not plain-vanilla easy or ordinary from both the musical and theatrical standpoints. For one thing, opera almost inevitably elevates melodrama into high art. For another, Leoncavallo’s music is unique and exceptionally beautiful, its orchestration unexpectedly complex–indeed even Wagnerian! Domingo, in a 2003 interview with The Guardian (UK) while rehearsing Pagliacci at Covent Garden, surmised that Leoncavallo must have loved Die Walküre deeply. Conductors and stage directors alike concur that Pagliacci, though seemingly simple, is difficult to stage to a state of near perfection.
This short opera has a number of showstopper arias, most notably “Vesti la giubba” (Put on the costume”), which is excerpted in the second video below. This particular production, commissioned by LA Opera and Washington National Opera in 1996, was created by the celebrated film maker and opera stage director/designer Franco Zefirrelli who updated the setting to urban Italy ca. 1960s; the Zefirrelli name is of course synonymous to SPECTACULAR!
It is no small wonder that Pagliacci, and this production in particular has incredible staying power.
Note: The Giveaway ended October 20, 2012 in tandem with another DVD Giveaway: “In the Footsteps of Chopin”.