Just because I've spent most of my life under a heat lamp doesn't mean I don't like to get out once in a while, so I was thrilled when the editors of The Stranger asked me to review the new production of Pagliacci at Seattle Opera.
I didn't know what to expect—obviously, I'm named after the opera and I knew it had something to do with a clown, but I have to admit I was pretty shocked by the content: A clown love triangle? Child abuse? Double murder? These are not the core values of Pizzeria Pagliacci! I thought the guy holding the knife in the poster was just going to slice some tomatoes or something.
The opera begins with a car rolling onto a piazza and all the townspeople cheering that the famous Pagliacci and his clowns have returned. They go drinking, leaving behind Pagliacci's wife, Nedda, who sings: "I'm burning with desire but I don't know what I want." I thought: "Maybe a slice of our famous Verdi Primo and a scoop of hazelnut gelato?" Wrong! She wants to make out with a good-looking villager named Silvio right in front of the church.
Tonio, a clown with a limp—who wishes he were Nedda's lover—sees them and tells Pagliacci, who rushes in to kill Nedda, but stops himself so they can put on the clown show. Pagliacci sings a famous aria about how he wants to die, but must turn his sadness into jokes for the audience. The singer, Antonello Palombi, has a rich, open baritone voice and the aria was very moving. I would've cried, if I had eyes.
I stayed in my seat for intermission—everyone knows opera audiences like to get stoned between acts, and a slice of pizza, even one crawling on the floor, isn't safe around stoners. Pagliacci is a short opera, so Seattle Opera added a dream sequence about how Pagliacci met Nedda, when she was just a street urchin, taught her some acrobatics, and married her. Which was fine except for one thing: I take GREAT EXCEPTION to the fact that the street-urchin Nedda, the one who first met Pagliacci, was played by a tiny girl who looked about 11. Are you seriously suggesting, Seattle Opera, that my namesake is a pedophile? To be named after a man who committed a crime of passion is one thing; to be named after a child molester is quite another.
Then the clowns tried to do their show, but Pagliacci was so angry, he stabbed Nedda and her lover, and it was over. Besides the offensive circus stuff, I really enjoyed myself. The sets were pretty, the singers were good, and the seats were comfortable. Thanks, Seattle Opera. Sorry about the grease stain.