Saturday, June 6, 2009
That Smokey Robinson song, Tears of a Clown, has been in my
head all week, since my post on clowns. Did you notice in the lyrics
he mentions Pagliacci? Pagliacci, meaning "clowns", is an opera
consisting of a prologue and two acts, written and composed by
Ruggero Leoncavallo. It portrays the tragedy of a jealous husband
in a commedia dell'arte troupe. The opera premiered in 1892 and it
is the only one of Leoncavallo's operas that is still widely staged
Smokey Robinson isn't the only one who mentions Pagliacci in his
lyrics. Billie Holiday sang a song entitled The Masquerade is Over
which included the lyrics, "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." The 1954 song Mr. Sandman contains the line,
"Give him a lonely heart like Pagliacci, and lots of wavy hair like
And do you remember "The Opera", a hilarious episode of Seinfeld,
that featured a spoof of Pagliacci, wherein the major characters
attend a performance of the opera while "Crazy" Joe Davola
disguises himself as Pagliaccio the clown to seek a tragic revenge?
I'm including a clip below of the legendary Pavarotti singing the
famous aria from Pagliacci, "Vesti la giubba", which means "Put on
the cosume". The aria is at the conclusion of the first act, when
Canio discovers his wife's infidelity, but must nevertheless prepare
for his performance as Pagliaccio the clown, because "the show must
go on". The scene is so powerfully poignant as Pavarotti applies
the white makeup to his face at the end of the aria. "Vesti la giubba"
is often regarded as one of the most moving in operatic repertoire.
And one more little tidbit of info; the 1904 recording by Enrico
Caruso was the first million selling record in history.
Here's the English translation:
To act! While out of my mind,
I no longer know what I say,
or what I do!
And yet it's necessary... make an effort!
Bah! Are you not a man?
You are Pagliaccio!
Put on your costume,
powder your face.
The people pay to be here, and they want to laugh.
And if Harlequin shall steal your Columbine,
laugh, Pagliaccio, so the crowd will cheer!
Turn your distress and tears into jest,
your pain and sobbing into a funny face - Ah!
at your broken love!
Laugh at the grief that poisons your heart!
I'll have to make an exception. This is one clown I happen to adore.