Love, heartbreak, betrayal and clowns

Tenor John Pickle (seen as Canio with Michigan Opera Theatre) will perform in Dayton Opera’s production of the powerful dramatic opera “I Pagliacci” Nov. 11 and 13 at the Schuster Center. CONTRIBUTED
Tenor John Pickle (seen as Canio with Michigan Opera Theatre) will perform in Dayton Opera’s production of the powerful dramatic opera “I Pagliacci” Nov. 11 and 13 at the Schuster Center. CONTRIBUTED

Send in the clowns.

Love, heartbreak, betrayal and musical grandeur presented through the dynamic prism of dramatic realism defines Ruggero Leoncavallo’s masterful 1892 opera “I Pagliacci” (Clowns) to be presented by Dayton Opera Friday, Nov. 11 and Sunday, Nov. 13, at the Schuster Center.

Sung in Italian and set in summer, “I Pagliacci” chronicles the behind-the-scenes fallout among a traveling troupe of clowns in southern Italy. The prologue particularly establishes the imperative fact that the actors in the work are real people with real feelings, an indication of the “verismo” (realistic) style that gives the opera its sweeping pulse. The opera notably climaxes in an onstage murder specifically finding the players switching from their comic script and setting the stage for heartbreaking tragedy.

“This is realistic opera taking place in real time with real characters expressing believable emotions motivated by rich psychology, personality and all the components of characterization,” said director Gary Briggle, staging his 13th production for Dayton Opera. “I’m fascinated by this look at a backstage drama. ‘I Pagliacci’ is simply about the private lives of professional actors. I’ve been a professional actor for over 40 years so I couldn’t wait to see how Leoncavallo got under the skin of these characters caught in a domestic love triangle that ends so badly.”

“I Pagliacci” is based on a real-life love triangle known to Leoncavallo. One of the composer’s best known works, the opera is especially regarded for the searing aria “Vesti la giubba” (“Put on the costume”), which is sung by Canio as he prepares for the final performance in which he will confront his wife, Nedda, who is secretly involved with Silvio, a young villager.

“The general public is always interested in the lives of celebrities, the lives of professional actors,” added Briggle who helmed Dayton Opera’s world premiere of “The Book Collector” last season. “And certainly in this village where the actors have come to perform their play the actors are celebrities. So, when the private lives of the actors become very public in a violent and tragic way, the village is a character as a whole that responds to that drama.”

The cast

The lead role of Canio will be played by tenor John Pickle most recently seen as Lt. B.F. Pinkerton in Dayton Opera’s 2015 production of “Madame Butterfly.” The Delaware News Journal specifically praised his recent performance in “I Pagliaaci” saying, “John Pickle’s portrayal of the jealous Canio is especially poignant during the aria ‘Vesti la giubba,’ the tenor’s powerful high notes ringing beautifully throughout the house.” Also returning to Dayton Opera is soprano Chloé Oliva Moore as Nedda. Moore returns after making her Dayton Opera debut as Leila in the 2015 production of “Pearl Fishers.” Baritone Malcolm MacKenzie, portraying Tonio, the traveling clown who betrays Canio by exposing his betrothed’s indiscretions, appeared in the title role in Dayton Opera’s 2002 production of “Don Giovanni.”

In addition, two pivotal supporting roles will be portrayed by baritone Kenneth Stavert as Silvio and tenor Robert Norman as Beppe, another troupe member. Stavert portrayed Papageno in Dayton Opera’s 2014 production of “The Magic Flute.” Norman, who portrayed Goro in last season’s “Madame Butterfly,” will return later this season as Pedrillo in “The Abduction from the Seraglio.”

The production also features guest conductor Willie Anthony Waters, returning to Dayton Opera for the first time in over 20 years. Waters previously conducted “Carmen” in 1994 and “Faust” in 1984. He has served as artistic director for Connecticut Opera, and, in 1985, became the first African-American to be named artistic director of a major American opera company, the Greater Miami Opera, now Florida Grand Opera. Also, the Dayton Opera Chorus will be led by chorus master Jeffrey Powell.

Embracing reality

Leoncavallo’s story of this traveling troupe of comedians is a potent, realistic drama about flesh and blood characters,” said Dayton Opera artistic director Thomas Bankston. “It is passionate music, with its heart wrenching tenor aria ‘Vesti la giubba’ even finding a place in pop culture. ‘I Pagliacci’ uniquely touches our 21st century emotions as it has touched those of audiences for decades before us.”


What: "I Pagliacci"

Where: Mead Theatre of the Schuster Center, Second and Main streets, Dayton

When: Nov. 11 and 13 — 8 p.m. Friday; 3 p.m. Sunday

Cost: $28-$94

Tickets: Call Ticket Center Stage at (937) 228-3630 or visit

FYI: The opera will be sung in Italian with English surtitles above the stage; Dayton Opera will host a Festa Italiana in the Wintergarden of the Schuster Center one hour before both performances; A pre-performance talk moderated by University of Dayton music professor Dr. Sam Dorf will take place one hour before both performances inside the Mead Theatre.

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