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Pagliacci (1982) (TV) was directed by the great Franco Zeffirelli. It's not a filmed stage performance. It's a movie based on the verismo opera composed and written by Ruggero Leoncavallo in 1892.
For those of you who don't know the plot, I'll summarize it. (If you know the opera, just skip this paragraph.) Canio (Plácido Domingo) is the leader of a group of traveling players. He plays the clown, Pagliacco. His much younger wife, Nedda (Teresa Stratas) is in love with Silvio (Alberto Rinaldi). Tonio (Juan Pons) is a coarse and misshapen member of the company. He lusts after Nedda, but she laughs and humiliates him. The tragic plot unfolds based on these basic elements.
Although Leoncavallo set the story in 1865 - 1870, Zeffirelli has moved the period to what appears to be the 1920's or early 1930's. Unlike Cavalleria Rusticana, which was filmed in a Sicilian village, this movie was clearly filmed on a movie set. There's no real attempt at scenic realism. (However, in fairness, this opera has a closed, very intimate feel. "Opening it up" would probably be a mistake.)
Teresa Stratas was one of the finest lyric sopranos of the 20th Century, and Nedda was one of her greatest roles. In 1982, Stratas was 44, which is much older than the role written for Nedda. However, Stratas was very beautiful and youthful in a slender, ethereal way, and she looks right for the part. Musically, she is perfection.
Domingo was surely one of the greatest tenors in opera history. At 41, he was younger than Canio is supposed to be, but with makeup he fit the role. And, of course, his vocal abilities defy description.
Although the opera has many fine arias and duets, when you think of Pagliacci, you think of the great tenor aria "Vesti la giubba" ("Put on the costume"). This is the classic story of a clown with a painted smile, whose heart is breaking. Even if you think you don't enjoy operatic music, you will still be moved by this aria.
The movie works well on a small screen. We saw it on DVD, and it was wonderful. It's packaged with another one-act operaCavalleria rusticana. These two operas are typically shown together in opera houses as well. Opera lovers call them "Cav and Pag." Usually they are shown with Cavalleria first, followed by Pagliacci. That's the order I would suggest if you watch them on DVD.
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