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?
Too funny.

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!

Laugh, Pagliaccio,
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.


  1. That Seinfeld episode was very of the better ones I was able to stand.

  2. I remember this but not that well. I was probably flipping back and forth. I used to spend a lot of time running in and out of the house and if something popped up on television as I passed I might stop and look and laugh or cry and go on about my business. The Seinfeld episode was funny though. I do remember some of that so I must have plopped down and watched.

    Got some new flowers to open up today. I have three now. Oh wow!

  3. Great information on Pagliaci but the topper was watching the way not to cry at his performance. Thank you.

  4. Seen it twice at the Met, once with Pavarotti, his curtain calls were incredible. Ah, one good reason to live in New York!

  5. I've it twice at the Met, once with Pavarotti, his curtain calls were incredible! Ah, one good reason to live in New York.

  6. He was an amazing tenor, wasn't he? Thanks for the insight and the clip.

  7. And will it be "Cav" tomorrrow?


  8. Pavarotti's voice was so pure. What a loss. Thank you for that video clip.

  9. Willow - I love your site. Thank you for the comments on mine. Clowns are perhaps the agents for everlasting treachery. Except of course, for Pavarotti.

  10. Oh, the transporting power of that voice! Thank you. (Love Smokey Robinson, too, but differently. You know.)

  11. the opening line of the piece you act, whole out of my mind...powerful. like the smokey robinson song as well. my you presented clowns in a much more flattering light today, even though you really don't like them. smiles, have a great wekend!

  12. I love Pagliacci....isn't it sad how people turned clowns into crazy sickos (Like Chuckie)? I used to have clowns in my shop quite often and was amazed at the number of adults who were terrified of them.

  13. That Crazy Joe Davola!
    I couldn't get that song out of my head either! And then yesterday I was sitting at my computer and I looked up and there was a circus poster on the wall that I ripped off of a telephone pole years ago and this clown was staring at me. That thing has got to go. It's not funny. See, clowns aren't funny. I have a picture of me when I was one at the 4th of July parade and I am burying my face in my Grandfather's chest cause I'm scared of the clowns. I'll post it on the 4th of July if I remember.
    Have fun under the Big Top this weekend,

  14. I think clowns are about masks and hidden emotions. Things we can not see behind what is put in our face. I always loved clowns, I have paintings and dolls, china. perhaps I am the one hiding behind the mask, whereas your fear stems from not being able to see behind the masks of others.

  15. WOW I am weeks behind in my reading and just read the post that started all this - yikes - I am certainly in the minority.
    I guess next time I'll start with older posts first.

  16. Willow, I did see the Smokey Robinson reference in the comments( somewhere ). As for the play, Lon Chaney's "Laugh Clown, Laugh" is loosely based upon it. Both quite good, as I recall. I am enriched....and thanks for the English translation!( okay, I'm not so enriched, after all, wot? )

  17. Wonderful post, I remember the Seinfeld episode like I watched it yesterday. Our family tuned into that show for many years. I enjoyed Pavarotti's video too. He came to our area about 10 years ago and my friends and I went to see him sing. It was a very memorable evening.

  18. i love that seinfeld episode!!

  19. that you mention it, when I worked in a job once, I had a friend who had a fabulous watercolor poster of Pagliaci--it was a beautiful poster, and I used to teasingly try to talk him into giving it to me. I'd forgotten all about that...

  20. I'm with you on this one. These are the good clowns as opposed to the evil freakish ones we endured as children!

    Thanks for the awesome video clip.

  21. 'Ah, Luciano, I miss you', says she sitting here with tears running down her cheeks.

    Thanks, Willow, I think I'll spend the afternoon looking at Pavarotti clips.

  22. The only clown i truly like, Viva L'Opera!!!

  23. Oh how I wish my speakers were working. I'm missing so many great video posts. Thanks for all the info about Pagliacci. I was woefully ignorant about him. But not anymore.

  24. Thanks Willow,for a fine clip and a delightful aria.

  25. It was either this or Nessun Dorma when I posted Pavarotti a few weeks ago. Thanks for posting this one - Kudos for keeping Clowns a running theme too!

  26. Thanks for this, lovely post as ever..

  27. Thank you Willow for the clip. I have always adored Paverotti, his voice, homour and wonderful sense of the dramatic.

  28. Hi! Willow,
    Nice post!
    "That Smokey Robinson song, Tears of a Clown, as been in my head"
    LOL!!!! Oh! No!...
    ...Now will the legendary Pavarotti singing the "Vesti la giubba" be in your head?!?

    Oh! I know all about Pagliacci...Thank you!...Wiki(pedia)
    By the way, Is that the Great Enrico Caruso in that poster?
    What a "stance"...

    Thanks! Willow,
    for all the Pagliacci info(rmation.)
    DeeDee ;-D

  29. It can be so irritating when you get a tune stuck in your head like that - but you've put it to good purpose. Well done.

  30. Hello Willow,

    I have always preferred Domingo over Pavarotti but I have to say that that was the most affecting performance I've seen him do. You have inspired me for tomorrow, If I can find what I would like!

  31. Eeeek, I'm crying now... Pavarotti....amazing...
    Thank you for this wonderful post♡

  32. Haha! Pagliacci is probably the only word that rhymes with Liberace!

    Do you know what that's called when you get a tune stuck in your head? In Germany it's called an 'ear worm'. I don't know the German words for it. And do you know why you get it stuck there? It's because you most likely don't know every word of the lyrics, so you just keep singing the same phrases over and over again and can never end it. It seems I always have an ear worm crawling around inside my head!

  33. I adored Pavarotti, too!

    Hey groovy new avatar, Willow!

  34. I've never noticed these references to Pagliacci before; I wonder if I will start catching them now that you have clued me in? (Have you ever noticed that phenomenon?)

  35. Isn't it rich?
    Are we a pair?
    Me here at last on the ground,
    You in mid-air.
    Send in the clowns.

    Isn't it bliss?
    Don't you approve?
    One who keeps tearing around,
    One who can't move.
    Where are the clowns?
    Send in the clowns.

    Just when I'd stopped opening doors,
    Finally knowing the one that I wanted was yours,
    Making my entrance again with my usual flair,
    Sure of my lines,
    No one is there.

    Don't you love farce?
    My fault I fear.
    I thought that you'd want what I want.
    Sorry, my dear.
    But where are the clowns?
    Quick, send in the clowns.
    Don't bother, they're here.

    Isn't it rich?
    Isn't it queer,
    Losing my timing this late
    In my career?
    And where are the clowns?
    There ought to be clowns.
    Well, maybe next year.

  36. Oh WILLOW! That poste has completely undone me! Fabulous and heart breaking and I love you for it.

  37. And I fully agree with you. willow. That's one clown I, too, adore, and I don't even like opera.

    Bu wait a minute, reading the first line of your post I thought you had gone 'cockney' on us, dear :-). You wrote as instead of 'has'. Now, for those who live in London like me that's the way a lot of the denizens of this city pronounce 'has'. I do it sometimes. We drop the 'h' sound, especially Eastenders. It sound great, I must admit and I like the cockney accent.

    Now, back to your marvellous post. I'm sure I've heard 'The Masquerade is Over' by another artist, a guitarist methinks. And yes, that line in Smokey Robinson's song always left me confused. I didn't know to what it referred. So, thanks for the lesson and have a fab weekend, me ol' china ;-)!

    Greetings from London.

    PS: 'china' comes from 'china plate' and means 'mate' in Cockney rhyming slang, friend.

  38. Yes this is a clown I could tolerate as well.

    A clown with style!

  39. Cuban, yes, I was getting bored with my midwestern accent! No, I'm kidding, it was one of those typos that spell check doesn't catch. Fixed it. Thanks, 'ol china! :^)

  40. My father loved Caruso (and Mario Lanza). Of course, I can't think of Pagliacci without thinking of DeNiro in "The Untouchables" as Al Capone - weeping openly until Frank Nitti reports that he's killed cop Malone (Sean Connery) and DeNiro's tears turn to laughter.


  41. I have to tell you that it was Pavarotti who tauhgt me to love opera! Thank you for this clip. One day I want to go to NYC just for the Met!

  42. I have to tell you that it was Pavarotti who tauhgt me to love opera! Thank you for this clip. One day I want to go to NYC just for the Met!


Inject a few raisins of conversation into the tasteless dough of existence.
― O. Henry (and me)