Pop goes “Pagliacci”
by Kathleen Sykes
Operas have the tendency to take you away to foreign lands and back in time, and Pagliacci is no exception! However, for all of its old-world charm and exotic setting, you’ll probably find that this opera is very familiar.
“Vesti la giubba” is the most iconic arias from this opera and indeed one of the most famous in all of opera. In this scene, Canio puts on his cheerful clown costume in spite of his pain (having just learned that his wife has been unfaithful). This dramatic song can be heard everywhere from children’s cartoons to commercials whenever an extra dose of drama is needed.
Not sure which song we’re talking about? Take a look at this performance by opera superstar Placido Domingo (the most recognizable part starts at 1:45):
Obviously, we can’t deprive you of some of the Internet’s best renditions of this classic aria—so with no further delay, here are some of the best pop-culture references:
#1 Sideshow Bob from “The Simpsons”
“The Simpsons” has never shied away from the performing arts. Many of their episodes include references to La bohème, HMS Pinafore, and even Shakespeare. The malevolent clown plays a perfect Canio/Pagliaccio in this episode where they turn the opera into a play within a play within a TV show.
#2 Harold from “Hey Arnold”
Whoever wrote this special episode of “Hey Arnold” must love opera and music education as much as we do! In this story, the title character’s 4th-grade class takes a trip to the opera. He falls asleep and begins to dream that he and all of his friends are characters from famous operas including Carmen and The Ring Cycle. However, Harold, the class bully, is less than thrilled with his casting as the “big ugly clown”.
#3 Crazy Joe Davola from “Seinfeld”
If you’re not a big fan of clowns, you might relate to Kramer in this episode of “Seinfeld”. Kramer gets tickets to the opera and invites the whole gang including (although unwittingly) Crazy Joe Davola who regularly antagonizes the bunch.
The world is always better with a smile and a Coke! Coca-Cola has a habit of creating ads that will tug at your heartstrings. In this ad, Canio is singing his famous sad aria while a child looks on wanting to comfort him. We won’t spoil the ending for you:
#5 Rice Krispies Cereal
Who knew that breakfast could get so dramatic! This vintage ad features a hilarious rewrite of this aria and perhaps a few familiar faces from the opera world.