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Review: PAGLIACCI at Lyric Opera of Chicago

A Free Full-Length Film from Lyric Opera of Chicago

Review: PAGLIACCI at Lyric Opera of Chicago Lyric Opera of Chicago announced this week that registration is now open for audiences to secure a free link to screen its new, original film production of Leoncavallo's Pagliacci, made at the Lyric Opera House. Audiences can now secure a free, on-demand viewing of this verismo production. More information about the production and reservations are available at

Peter McClintock directs with film direction by Matt Hoffman, Lyric's Music Director Enrique Mazzola conducts tenor Russell Thomas as Canio, soprano Ailyn Pérez as Nedda, baritone Quinn Kelsey as Tonio, baritone Lucas Meachem as Silvio, and tenor Eric Ferring as Beppe. The minimal scenic design by Maria DeFabo Akin and Scott Wolfson, is lit effectively by Chris Maravich.

Scott Marr provided costume designs that omitted all references to the traditional Italian Commedia del Arte usually presented in this opera's play-within-a-play. Nedda wore a dress that looked wonderfully amateurish, but Canio never got a clown jacket or makeup that made him into a visual Pagliaccio. He sings "Pagliaccio non son" because he looks like a mere clown, rather than a revenge-seeking husband, entering the stage.

Just as Pagliacci was instrumental in bringing a new realism and emotional depth to opera in 1892, the 2021 film deals with universal and timeless themes of desire, jealousy, and revenge. Canio who heads the company is Nedda's husband. Perhaps she had to marry him a year ago. Now, she prefers the young and good looking Silvio, but is afraid to make the final break.

As Canio, Russell Thomas is a heroic tenor with the voice and the look for Canio, the middle- aged chief clown and company owner who has a trophy wife. In the recitative that precedes his famous aria, Recitar! Mentre preso dal delirio, non so più quel che dico e quel che faccio! He sings (Close to delirium, I don't know what I say or what I do!) Because this is film, not live opera, we can see the expression on Canio's face even though he has no clown costume and no clown makeup. Vocally, he is at home with fortissimo singing and his high notes shine in bronzed security.

As Nedda, Ailyn Pérez shows this audience that she has gone from the coloratura of Juliette to more dramatic roles like Violetta and Nedda. Pérez can be an earthy Sicilian comedienne without any coarse moments. Her singing is a wide ranging tapestry of vocal color that makes her interpretation a process of sonic beauty. Her duet with baritone Lucas Meachem as Silvio told of his strong-voiced attraction for her and her inability to break away from Canio. Only when she is alone singing to the birds can she be free. Singing with Eric Ferring as Beppe in the play-within-the-play, she blends her sweet notes with his firmly based tenor tones.

Quinn Kelsey's Tonio is aggressive, but he is not significantly ugly or disabled. Nedda does not seem to have a good reason for disliking him at the beginning of this production. As the story unfolds, however, we see his nasty character delineated by golden sounds that could charm the devil himself.

Ruggiero Leoncavallo wrote both the text and the music for the 1892 verismo or realistic opera, Pagliacci. The composer said he based the story on a court case his father, a magistrate, investigated when Ruggiero was a child. Leoncavallo originally titled his story Il Pagliaccio (The Clown). The baritone Victor Maurel, who created the role of Tonio, asked Leoncavallo to change the title from the singular to the plural, Pagliacci, because he wanted to broaden dramatic interest and include all the clowns in the troupe. At the end of the opera, either Canio or Tonio can sing the final line: " La commedia è finita." In the Chicago production, Quinn Kelsey as Tonio sings it.

Lyric Opera of Chicago has given us an excellent new film of Pagliacci that stirs the emotions of the viewer from the gorgeous overture conducted by Enrique Mazzola to Tonio's conclusive line. It is free to watch, too! Don't miss it.

Photo of tenor Russell Thomas courtesy of Los Angeles Opera.

From This Author - Maria Nockin

Maria Nockin worked at the Metropolitan Opera in New York while attending  Fordham University across the street from Lincoln Center. At the same time, she studied voice, piano, and violin... (read more about this author)

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