Local Arts

You think you don’t know opera? Here are 19 ways you’re wrong (at least about ‘Pagliacci’)

This ad (watch it, and several other clips, below) made one list of the tops of all time.
This ad (watch it, and several other clips, below) made one list of the tops of all time.

You there, with zero opera knowledge? You know “Pagliacci.” Allow me to prove it to you (and there’s something for all ages!):

▪ The late ’60s Kellogg's cereal ad above, with the lyrics “No more Rice Krispies! We are out of Rice Krispies!” was named one of the top 10 commercials of all time by Entertainment Weekly.

[Opera Carolina pairs ‘Pagliacci’ with a U.S. premiere of ‘Aleko’ in its upcoming show, April 10-16.]

▪ In 1987’s “The Untouchables,” Jimmy Malone (played by Sean Connery) dies -- eventually – to the aria, while Al Capone (Robert De Niro) is at the opera. (Skip to 1:53 of this incredibly bloody montage to see the pacing.)

▪ Coke’s clown, below, found solace in ... caffeine.

▪ Harold in “Hey Arnold,” Nickelodeon’s animated series of the late ’90s, early ’00s, pulled out the aria in all kinds of situations.

▪ Jackie Wilson’s 1961 “My Empty Arms” = melody of “Vesti la giubba.”

[How does opera reach out to new audiences? Charlotte teachers get training from the Met and Opera Carolina does touring shows and study guides.]

▪ Queen’s Freddie Mercury begins “It’s a Hard Life” (1984) with a snippet.

▪ Where’d you think that Smokey Robinson song in 1967 came from, anyway? (“Just like Pagliacci did, I try to keep my surface hid ...”)

▪ Seinfield’s Kramer et. al. run across the Pagliacci plot below with a sinister encounter in the mid ’90s:

▪ Rorschach tells a Pagliacci joke (well, as much as Rorschach tells “jokes”) in the 1986 “Watchmen” graphic novel series by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. (This clip’s from the film.)

▪ Etta James sang “(I'm afraid) The Masquerade Is Over” on her 1994 “Mystery Lady” record. (“I guess I'll have to play Pagliacci and get myself a clown's disguise, and learn to laugh like Pagliacci with tears in my eyes ...”)

▪ “The Simpsons” and Pagliacci? Of course, in Season 17’s “The Italian Bob” with key clowns Krusty and Sideshow Bob, who stars below:

▪ You’ve caught it in the Chordettes’ “Mister Sandman” from 1954, yes? “Mister Sandman, bring me a dream ... Give him a lonely heart like Pagliacci and lots of wavy hair like Liberace ...”)

▪ The Joker in the Adam-West, TV-version of “Batman” had a thing for Pagliacci (skip to 2:48).

▪ From the 1950 album “Murdering the Classics,” Spike Jones did “Pal-Yat-Chee,” a twangy song about stumbling onto a performance of the opera ( “We couldn’t understand ‘em ‘cause they spoke a foreign tongue... All at once there’s a fat guy in a clown suit ...”)

▪ “The Tenor with the Broken Voice,” an episode of the ’30s radio show “The Shadow” starring Orson Welles as hero Lamont Cranston, involved murders during a production of “I Pagliacci.”

▪ Like a clown that looks so happy, just like old Pagliacci,” sang The Dramatics in the 1995 “Me Myself and I.”

▪ How could the Marx Brothers spoof opera without poking fun at “Pagliacci”? Groucho warbles a bit of “Vesti la giubba” in 1935’s “A Night at the Opera” (“Ridi Pagliacci...I love you very muchee...!”). He also quizzes a character costumed as a clown: “Can you sleep on your stomach with such big buttons on your pajamas?”

▪ Playing the titular character of the chameleon “Zelig” (1983), Woody Allen – for a brief moment – is the famous clown (actually an altered image of opera great Caruso in a clown costume).

▪ “The Clowns (Pagliacci)” (1998), by P. Craig Russell for Dark Horse Comics, is a retelling.