I Pagliacci: A comedic opera about a clown who murders his wife
The Acorn Theater in Three Oaks will stage the comedic opera I Pagliacci later this week. I Pagliacci is about a troupe of clowns in Italy. One of the clowns attacks his wife when he discovers she’s cheating on him with another man.
Chicago opera singer Warren Moulton enjoys telling the true story of how the composer came up with the storyline.
“The real reason is the composer Ruggiero Leoncavallo was the son of a magistrate. And when he was about ten years old his old man was hearing a case of an actor, a clown, who was part of a troupe who killed his unfaithful wife after a performance," Moulton says. "They had something in Italy at the time called a crime of passion. If you were out of your wits you could get a lighter sentence or even get off scott free. So they were trying to find out if this guy had lost his senses. So this actor stands up in court and says very dramatically, 'No, I do not regret my crime. If I had it to do over I'd kill her again!' So this really stuck with this kid and when he grew up and became a composer he just had to write an opera using that story.”
Both Moulton and fellow actor John Payonk, who sings the title role, say Pagliacci is a great opera for first time opera-goers.
“First of all for anyone who’s new to opera, it’s short," says Payonk. "It’s just a little over an hour with an intermission in the middle. And, it’s so dramatic and the music is so thrilling, I guarantee you’re gonna love it. Plus, they have the supertitles above the stage, so we sing in Italian but the English words are right there. And, unlike Mozart, where the language is very flowery, this is just real. And, there’s some great acting in this cast. From the acting, you know what’s going on.”
“I know, myself, some operas are boring," Payonk says. "You know they go on forever, it’s just like what’s happening, nothing’s happening. In this one something’s happening all the time.”
Director Carl Ratner agrees, but says the opera isn’t for the squeamish.
“It can be a great first opera if someone isn’t too horrified by people losing their lives on stage,” says Ratner. And, Ratner says, the music makes the dramatic action even more intense. “The way that the music shapes the emotional experience," Ratner says. "As long as you don’t go against that with what you do on stage, then the music so supports the audience, coming into the drama of the piece, and the emotionality of it and it just takes it to another level.”
Actor John Payonk says some people are surprised they can see an opera in a small town like Three Oaks, and not just in big cities like Chicago and New York.
“Opera is for everybody," says Payonk. "It’s gotten such a highbrow reputation but it really isn’t, especially not this opera. It’s based on truth and it’s very dramatic. It’s like an episode of something you’d see on TV. There’s a love triangle, there’s murder, there’s mayhem. There is funny stuff."
I Pagliacci will be performed Wednesday, Friday and Saturday evening at the Acorn Theater in Three Oaks.