Vesti La Giubba Lyrics, Translation, History, and More

A man portraying Canio in Pagliacci
Placido Domingo performs as Canio in the Leoncavallo's opera 'Pagliacci' at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden in 2003. Robbie Jack/Corbis/Getty Images

In the finale of the first act of Ruggiero Leoncavallo's unforgettable two-act operaPagliacci, Canio, a clown, and leader of a traveling group of performers, has just found out his wife is having an affair. Despite the aloof and foolish characters he portrays in his acting troupe, Canio is a very serious person and highly protective of his wife. After one of their performances, Canio and a few other cast members go out to drink in celebration. When Canio's wife, Nedda, declines and stays behind with another cast member, Tonio, someone jokes that she stayed behind to be seduced by him. Canio becomes furious and rebukes them on the spot. He believes his wife is faithful and will not let anyone say differently. While he drinks with his friend Beppe, Tonio does try to seduce Nedda. Nedda refuses his advances and sends him away. Tonio doesn't leave, though—he hides nearby. Moments later, Silvio, Nedda's lover, greets her and convinces her to elope with him. Tonio runs back to the tavern to tell Canio. Canio rushes out of the tavern and runs back to Nedda, just missing her lover. He demands that she reveal her lover's identity, but she refuses. Beppe talks Canio out of harming his wife and insists that they prepare for the next performance. As Canio gets into costume, he sings this heart-wrenching aria. To find out what happens in the next act, read the synopsis of Pagliacci.

Italian Lyrics

Recitar! Mentre preso dal delirio,
non so più quel che dico,
e quel che faccio!
Eppur è d'uopo, sforzati!
Bah! Sei tu forse un uom?
Tu se' Pagliaccio!
Vesti la giubba e la faccia infarina.
La gente paga, e rider vuole qua.
E se Arlecchin t'invola Colombina,
ridi, Pagliaccio, e ognun applaudirà!
Tramuta in lazzi lo spasmo ed il pianto
in una smorfia il singhiozzo e 'l dolor, Ah!
Ridi, Pagliaccio,
sul tuo amore infranto!
Ridi del duol, che t'avvelena il cor!

English Translation

I declaim! While taken with delirium,
I do not know what I am saying,
or what I am doing!
Yet it is necessary, I must force myself!
Bah! Are you not a man?
Thou art Pagliacci (clown)!

Put on your costume and apply make up to your face.
The people pay, and they want to laugh.
And if Harlequin invites away Colombina
laugh, Pagliaccio (clown), and everyone will applaud!
Turn the spasms and tears into jokes,
The tears and pain into grimaces, Ah!

Laugh, Pagliaccio (clown),
your love is broken!
Laugh of the pain, that poisons your heart!

Recommended Recordings

Type in "Vesti la giubba" in YouTube, and you'll find pages after pages of videos of this famous aria. No doubt, the great tenor Luciano Pavarotti will dominate the top listings (and rightfully so). To help separate the wheat from the chaff, below is a list of my favorite recordings and performers.

Pagliacci History

Leoncavallo began composing his first opera, Pagliacci, sometime in 1890, after attending a performance of Mascagni's opera, Cavalleria RusticanaInspired by the opera's content and Mascagni's successful career, Leoncavallo, a barely known composer at the time, sought to make a name for himself. After Pagliacci's premiere in Milan on May 21, 1892, it garnered great adoration from audiences, but tepid responses from critics. Due to its popularity, the opera was performed in France several years later. Upon reading the French translation, French author Catulle Mendes sued Leoncavallo for plagiarizing his play La Femme de Tabarin. Leoncavallo claimed that he based Pagliacci on events that took place within his family when he was a child. Later, Mendes was accused of plagiarizing another work, so he dropped the lawsuit entirely.

Today, given the opera's shorter length, it is often double-billed with Mascagni's opera, Cavalleria Rusticana, thanks in part to New York's Metropolitan Opera's 1893 operatic season in which both operas were performed together. Now, over 100 years after its creation, Pagliacci has become one of the world's most performed operas. According to Operabase, a company to which over 700 opera houses report their performances, Pagliacci ranked #20 in the 2014 season, having been performed 212 times.