I Pagliacci
(The Clowns)

Updated June 26, 2020 | Infoplease Staff
Music and Libretto:Ruggiero Leoncavallo
Premiere:Milan, May 21, 1892

Leoncavallo's sentimental play-within-a-play unfolds in an Italian village, where a group of traveling actors are to perform. The intensely jealous Canio, head of the troupe, discovers that his actress-wife Nedda has decided to run off with a lover. Vowing revenge, he declares that the guilty man will somehow reveal himself at that evening's performance. During the play, when Nedda as Columbine addresses Harlequin, her stage lover, Canio breaks through his disguise as Pagliaccio and bullies his wife to reveal her lover's real name. Terrified, Nedda flees the stage, but Canio pursues her and stabs her to death. With her dying breath, Nedda whispers the name of Silvio, and Canio slays him on the spot. The audience is paralyzed with fear by the drama that has suddenly and tragically come to life.

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