“L’autore ha cercato invece pingervi uno squarcio di vita”* November 21, 2007Posted by Jeff in Italian, La Boheme, Opera, Theater, Tito Gobbi.
* “Instead, the author has sought to paint for you a scene from life”
If you have ever read program notes for Pagliacci, Ruggero Leoncavallo’s first and best-known opera, you’ve probably seen the story that the composer based his libretto on a true murder case that had been tried by his father, who was a judge.
Great story … too bad it probably isn’t true.
This was Leoncavallo’s defense against a plagiarism lawsuit, but no evidence has ever been found to support it. Nowadays it is assumed that the “original” libretto is based upon a play by Catulle Mendès, La Femme de Tabarin.
If Leoncavallo was a plagiarist, the gods of opera had their revenge on him. Two years after Pagliacci’s success, he met with his good friend Giacomo Puccini and told him his idea for a libretto based on Henri Murger’s novel Scènes de la Vie de Bohème. The next thing you know, Puccini’s La Bohème had beaten Leoncavallo’s version to the stage. Leoncavallo never again spoke to Puccini, nor did Leoncavallo ever again have a successful opera.
Here, from 1948, is Tito Gobbi’s performance of the prologue of Pagliacci: