From both the librettist and the people writing the program notes. Yesterday was the final Met Opera broadcast of the season, and it ended with Pagliacci, Ruggero Leoncavallo’s famous opera about Crazy Joe Davola.
Putting aside the fact that the opera is basically every male Internet jackass put onstage and singing beautifully (Canio/Pagliacco is so obsessed with his wife’s fidelity that he vows to kill her and anyone who might seduce her if she ever strays—it should be noted that he announces this in the lighthearted song in which he is introduced to the audience—and his co-star, Tonio, is so enraged that the wife won’t have an affair with him—despite, as he admits, he’s a lumpen, ugly clown—that he decides that she deserves to die), it’s a surprisingly interesting piece. I had only heard of the “tragic clown” thing before, without knowing the plot, and I really think people are using the term incorrectly—when you think “tragic clown,” you don’t usually think “clown who decides to kill his wife because she’s unfaithful,” but maybe we have different definitions of the term.
Anyway, the program notes describe the ending thusly, and I quote: “She [the wife] tries to continue with the performance, the audience enthralled by its realism, until Canio snaps. In a fit of rage he stabs Nedda [the wife] and then Silvio [her lover], who rushes to her aid. Turning to the horrified crowd, Tonio announces that the comedy is over.”
Reading that, I thought two things: 1) No kidding, the comedy is over—a double-homicide tends to be a real buzzkill; 2) Well, obviously it’s not just “One murder, two murders, ‘Th-th-th-that’s all, folks!’” But nope, that’s literally the end.
Great way to go out on a high note, Met. Even though the people in your average opera go from first meeting to murder-suicide in about three minutes, this is dismal even by operatic standards.