As soon as Canio has gone off drinking with Beppe, Tonio starts to pester Nedda, saying that he may look like a monster but one day he’ll have Nedda for his own. Nedda gets angry and eventually lunges out at him, at which Tonio swears to get even with her. It so happens that Nedda’s unhappy with Canio but is too poor to escape. She has a lover in the village, however, called Silvio, and when he shows up he offers to take her away with him that evening. She tentatively agrees, and they have a brief time together in the bushes. Tonio sees them, however, and hurries off to fetch Canio who tries to chase Silvio, but fails. It’s now time for the play, and as Canio puts on his clown’s makeup he sings the opera’s most famous aria, Vesti la giubba (‘put on the costume’) — he must act the clown even though his heart is broken.
The play begins with Canio and Nedda very nearly acting out their real-life situation. Gradually real life overtakes Canio, and his demands to know the name of Nedda’s lover become more and more violent. Finally Silvio, watching in the audience, can bear it no longer and rushes onstage to Nedda’s help, at which Canio, who now knows his adversary’s identity, stabs them both to death, using a knife handed him by Tonio.
The TSO are remaining tight-lipped about what kind of productions these are going to be, but an informant in the cast has said that the interpretations will be unusual, and the costumes modern in style — something in the manner of Lady Gaga. What also appears clear is that they’ll contain dance elements, rarely seen in these works. The guest conductor is Johannes Wildner (who in 2007 nearly got the job of music director of the National Symphony Orchestra).
As for the soloists, two great Taiwan stars are sharing the role of Nedda, with Mewas Lin (林惠珍) singing it on Thursday Sept. 6 and Saturday Sept. 8 and Grace Lin (林慈音) taking the role on Friday Sept. 7 and Sunday afternoon, Sept. 9. Another famous Taiwan soloist, Wu Bai Yu-hsi (巫白.玉璽), will sing Tonio in Pagliacci on Sept. 6 and Sept. 8, and Alfio in Cavalleria Rusticana on Sept. 7 and Sept. 9. Lu Ping (陸蘋), who sang the Princess in Sour Angelica in March, will be Mama Lucia in all four performances of Cavalleria Rusticana.
As with all opera, there’s considerable benefit to be gained from getting to know the music in advance. DVD, with its multi-lingual subtitles, is the best way to do this, and here there are three products that can be unreservedly recommended. Franco Zefirelli’s films of the two operas, together on one DVD, is in many ways unimprovable. With Placido Domingo in both (as Turiddu and Canio), plus Elena Obraztsova as Santuzza and Teresa Stratas as Nedda, and the La Scala Milan orchestra and chorus, they must stand as first choice (DG 0734033). But the versions conducted by Karajan, with Jon Vickers as Canio and Peter Glossop as Tonio, are almost as good (DG 0734389). Another outstanding performance of Pagliacci, with Juan Pons and Pavarotti, comes from James Levine and his New York forces, coupled this time with Puccini’s one-act opera Il Tabarro (‘the cloak’), with Pons and Domingo (DG 0734024).
This pair of operas makes for an unequalled experience. To see them staged with strong casts and in an attractive, medium-sized auditorium like the Metropolitan Hall is sure to be an unalloyed pleasure.