How popular an opera is "Pagliacci"?
It's so popular that the two major opera companies closest to Bradenton both chose it for their season opening this year.
The production at the St. Petersburg Opera closed a successful run Oct. 21. The Sarasota Opera will open its "Pagliacci" on Friday. It will have six performances through Nov. 15.
It's an opera that appeals to both opera connoisseurs and newcomers
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"All of the popular opera that opera lovers love, most of them are really good for beginners," said Victor DeRenzi, the Sarasota Opera's artistic director. "Most of us got to love opera because of operas like 'Pagliacci.' It has music that everyone knows, even if they've never been to an opera, and it has a compelling story that's simply told."
That story has to do with a traveling theater troupe that arrives in an Italian village. They announce that they will perform a play about a clown named Pagliaccio. Canio, the actor who will play the clown, learns that his wife is cheating on him, but has to take the stage in the comedy anyway. But he can't control his anger and he kills her on stage while the villagers believe they are still watching a play.
"Pagliacci" is a relatively short opera, and traditionally it's be paired with another opera on the same program -- usually Pietro Mascagni's one-act opera "Cavalleria Rusticana." (The pairing of the two is often compacted as "Cav/Pag.")
The Sarasota Opera -- like the St. Petersburg Opera a couple of weeks back -- is doing "Pagliacci" and nothing but.
"I think there's a trend lately of doing 'Pagliacci' by itself," DeRenzi said. "It's a strong enough story to stand on its own."
And it's not so short that audiences feel that they don't get their money's worth, DeRenzi said. With intermission, it's about the same length as a standard play, ballet or movie.
The Sarasota Opera will begin with an orchestral prelude featuring two operatic pieces -- the intermezzos from "Cavalleria Rusticana" and Pietro Muscagni's "L'amico Fritz."
One of the musical highlights of "Pagliacci" is the poignant aria "Vesti la giubba." It's perhaps the most widely known operatic piece ever written, sung by the heartbroken actor who must go on stage and be a clown. (A 1902 recording by Enrico Caruso was the first million-selling record in history.)
But the story is just as poignant as the music.
"It's a story about people," DeRenzi said. "It's about love, about heartbreak, about jealousy."
Details: Oct. 31-Nov. 15, Sarasota Opera, 61 N. Pineapple Ave., Sarasota. Show times: 8 p.m. Oct. 31, Nov. 5, 11 and 13; 1:30 p.m. Nov. 2 and 15. Tickets: $19-$125. Information: 941-866-8450, sarasotaopera.org.
Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-708-7919. Follow twitter.com/martinclear.