“The first time I did Pagliacci, at the Royal Opera House in London, I did it as it had normally been done, turn-of-the-century. Also, at the Met, I did it that way. But then in the early ‘80s, I brought it much closer to us. I set it in the same environment, Southern Italy, but in the early 1940s. That’s the version that Plácido [Domingo] and Teresa Stratas did around the world and also on video and laser disc. But then I thought, why stop in the middle of the road? Let’s do it today.” – Director Franco Zeffirelli on staging his Pagliacci in the present day (then 1996)
LA Opera’s 1996/1997 season opened with a riveting production of Ruggero Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci (that we have brought back this season). Franco Zeffirelli’s staging broke with tradition for two main reasons. First, the sheer size of the production justified the director to stage the opera by itself, as opposed to part of a double bill with Pietro Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana or another work. Additionally, he set the opera in present day Italy bringing Pagliacci’s theme of exploring human emotions home to modern audiences. The story follows a company of traveling circus players. Their comedy turns real, when Canio discovers that his wife Nedda has betrayed him.