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Barber of Seville, Pagliacci, Falstaff, and A Masked Ball Facts

Linda Crampton has loved music since childhood. She plays the piano and recorder, sings, and listens to classical, folk, and early music.

The Barber of Seville sculpture in the Italian Garden

The Barber of Seville sculpture in the Italian Garden

The Music and the Opera Walk Sculptures

The Italian Garden in Hastings Park, Vancouver contains beautiful plants and fountains. The Opera Walk in the garden is bordered by sculptures depicting characters in famous Italian operas. In this article, I describe the plots of four of the operas represented by the sculptures: The Barber of Seville, Pagliacci, Falstaff, and A Masked Ball. I also include videos containing highlights from the operas as well as my photos of relevant sculptures.

For someone who knows the operas, the sculptures may trigger memories of favourite melodies and arias. For those who aren’t familiar with the music, they may provoke curiosity about the characters that they represent. They were created in 2000–2001 by Ken Clarke, a Vancouver sculptor.

A section of the Opera Walk; the tents in the background are part of a fair and are only present during two weeks of the year

A section of the Opera Walk; the tents in the background are part of a fair and are only present during two weeks of the year

The Barber of Seville: A Plot Synopsis

Despite the somewhat menacing facial expression of the barber in the photos shown above, The Barber of Seville is a comic opera, or an opera buffo as it's known in Italian. It was first performed in 1816. The composer was Gioachino Rossini and the librettist Cesare Sterbini. The barber in the title is named Figaro. He does more than give shaves. He is sometimes referred to as a factotum—a servant or employee who does many kinds of jobs.

The plot of the opera is convoluted, but at heart it's a love story. Dr. Bartolo lives with his ward Rosina, whom he keeps confined in the house and wants to marry. Count Almaviva also wants to marry Rosina. At the start of the opera, he is disguised as a poor student named Lindoro because he wants Rosina to love him for himself, not his money. The competition between the two suitors is the basis for the opera.

Figaro is Doctor Bartolo's barber. His loyalty lies with the count, however. He aids the count in his effort to win Rosina's heart. One of his efforts involves a theft. While he is preparing to shave Bartolo, Figaro steals the key to the balcony doors of Rosina's room. His goal is to enable the count and Rosina to escape. I like to think that Figaro is thinking about the key in the sculpture, which could explain his expression of smiling evil. The theft doesn't end the story, however. The plot of the opera involves multiple disguises, twists, and turns, but eventually Bartolo concedes defeat and Count Almaviva, Rosina, and Figaro celebrate their success.

Largo al factotum (Make way for the factotum) is sung at Figaro's first entrance. The lyrics show that Figaro has a high opinion of himself. The aria is said to be very difficult for the singer to perform. I think you'll understand why if you listen to it. Listeners may recognize a comic refrain that has become popular beyond the opera.

Largo al factotum Performed by Peter Matie

The popular overture to The Barber of Seville played in the video below may remind some listeners of a famous cartoon rabbit. Rabbit of Seville is a 1950 cartoon about Bugs Bunny that includes the overture of the opera.

Overture to The Barber of Seville

 Canio

Canio

In the sculpture shown above, Canio is smiling and crying at the same time. One of the themes of Pagliacci is that comic entertainers such as clowns may actually be sad inside.

Pagliacci Synopsis

Pagliacci ("Clowns") is also a love story, but unlike The Barber of Seville it's a tragedy, not a comedy. The music and the libretto were composed by Ruggero Leoncavallo. He wrote many other operas, but Pagliacci was his only success. It was first performed in 1892. The opera uses the interesting technique of showing a performance within a performance.

The plot is centred around a commedia dell'arte troupe of actors. Commedia dell'arte troupes travelled from place to place, setting up a stage in every community that they visited. Their performances contained stock characters that their audience expected to see and loved.

Canio is an actor in the troupe depicted in the opera and often plays the part of a clown. He's married to an actress named Nedda. Unfortunately, Nedda is in love with Silvio. To make things even more complicated, an actor named Tonio is in love with Nedda. She spurns his advances, however. In revenge, Tonio tells Canio about the relationship between Nedda and Silvio.

While performing with Nedda soon after his meeting with Tonio, Canio's jealousy and misery increase. He departs from the plot and angrily asks Nedda to reveal the name of her lover. At first the audience within the opera is impressed with what they believe is very realistic acting and applauds what they see. As the intensity of the interaction between Canio and Nedda grows, however, the audience realizes that they are watching a real-life drama. Canio eventually stabs and kills Nedda. When Silvio rushes forward to help her, Canio kills him as well. Canio (or Tonio in some renditions of the opera) then turns to the on-stage audience and says "The comedy has ended".

A famous area from the opera is "Vesti la giubba," which is often translated as "Put on Your Costume" or "On With the Motley." Canio sings the aria just after he learns of Nedda's infidelity and shortly before he has to go on stage as a clown.

Vesti la giubba Performed by Luciano Pavarotti

The video below shows the dramatic ending of Pagliacci. "No, pagliaccio non son" roughly means, "No, I am not a clown." Like love, death is a common occurrence in operas. It's generally depicted via props and acting instead of special effects.

The Climax of Pagliacci

Falstaff

Falstaff

Falstaff Synopsis

The music of Falstaff was composed by Guiseppe Verdi and was first performed in 1893 when he was seventy-nine. It was his last opera and is often referred to as his crowning glory. The libretto was adapted and written by Arrigo Boito.

Sir John Falstaff is a character derived from three of Shakespeare's plays—The Merry Wives of Windsor and Henry lV Parts 1 and 2. He is traditionally depicted as an overweight and semi-balding knight, as in the sculpture. At the start of Act 1 of the opera, we discover that Falstaff is running out of money, He decides to solve this problem by attracting not one but two wealthy (and married) women named Alice and Meg. Falstaff sends an identical love letter to each woman. The women discover this fact, however, and are determined to teach Falstaff a lesson.

Act 2 shows the tricks played on the knight by the women and their friends. Act 3 continues this theme. Falstaff is given a note that apparently comes from Alice. She asks him to meet her at midnight in Windsor Park while disguised as the Black Huntsman, a ghost said to haunt the park. Alice and her friends plan to disguise themselves as woodland spirits to scare Falstaff. Their plan is successful, but it has an additional outcome.

While everyone is disguised, Mr. Ford—Alice's husband—mistakenly gives his blessing to the marriage of his daughter Nannetta (or Nanetta) and the man she loves. He would never have done this had he seen who the people really were, since he wanted his daughter to marry someone else. In fact, he had concocted a plan to bless the union of Nannetta and his desired son-in-law while they were disguised, but the plan was foiled. When the disguises are removed, Ford accepts his defeat. At the end of the opera, the characters join in song and happily agree that everything is a joke (or that everyone is fooled).

Falstaff contains many humorous scenes, but I think that the aria below is beautiful. Nannetta is disguised as the Fairy Queen during the Windsor Park visit. Here she calls her fairies out of the darkness to dance.

Sul fil d'un soffio etesio

The scene above and the video below are taken from a new version of Falstaff which is set in the 1950s. The characters have a different appearance from the customary ones. The music appears to be the same as that in the traditional version of the opera, however.

FInal Scene of Falstaff: Everyone Is Fooled

A Masked Ball

A Masked Ball

Synopsis of A Masked Ball

A Masked Ball was also composed by Guiseppe Verdi. It ends with a death, however, and is definitely not a comedy. The libretto was written by Antonio Somma. The opera was first performed in 1859. It's set in Boston in the United States. Riccardo, one of the leading characters, is the Governor of Boston. Renato is his secretary and another important character. Renato is married to a woman named Amelia, whom Riccardo loves.

Renata eventually discovers that his wife and the governor love one another. He is so angry at the thought of his wife's infidelity that he thinks about killing her. She tells him that despite her feelings she has never been unfaithful to him. Renata then says that Riccardo deserves to die. The aria in which he sings about his betrayal by Riccardo and the pain that he feels is known as Eri tu. It's one of the most famous parts of the opera.

Renata and two companions decide to kill Riccardo. (The governor has made enemies for other reasons besides his love for Amelia.) Before the conspirators can carry out their plan, however, they receive an invitation to a masked ball at the Governor's mansion. The conspirators think that the ball will be an ideal time to kill the Governor.

Before the ball begins, Riccardo decides that he must send Amelia and Renata back to England in order to prevent his desire for Amelia from causing problems. This action would have saved his life, but he never gets a chance to put it into effect.

Amelia knows about the plot to kill Riccardo and warns him that he is in danger both before and during the ball. Riccardo doesn't leave the ball when Amelia urges him to, however. He seems to feel that it would be cowardly to run away from enemies. The pair say goodbye to each other at the ball. (Perhaps the sculptor had them in mind when he created the sculpture above,) Renata then approaches Riccardo and shoots him with a pistil. As Riccardo dies, he confirms that Amelia has been faithful to Renata. He also forgives Renata and the other people that were involved in the plot to kill him.

Some productions of A Masked Ball are set in Sweden instead of Boston and King Gustav lll replaces Ricardo. This was Verdi's original conception of the opera, but his plans were censored. In real life, the king was assassinated at a masked ball. The opera performance in the video below follows Verdi's original plan.

Highlights From A Masked Ball (San Francisco Opera)

The video below is old, but the sound quality is good. I think that Piero Capuccilli's rendition of Eri tu is superb. The audience thinks so, too, judging by the length of the applause.

Eri tu From A Masked Ball or Un Ballo in Maschera

The Joys of Opera

I enjoy exploring opera in real life when I'm able to as well as on the Internet at any time. The plots may be interesting, but the real joys of operas are the music, the acting, and often the sets and costumes as well. A storyline that seems silly, unrealistic, or even unacceptable on paper (or on a computer screen) is frequently very enjoyable when seen in an opera. A good production can bring ideas and emotions alive and create lasting memories. Opera can be a very rewarding art form for spectators.

© 2017 Linda Crampton

Comments

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on May 08, 2020:

Hi, Peggy. Yes, the sculpture of Falstaff is interesting. I never get tired of seeing the sculptures of the opera characters when I visit the garden.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on May 08, 2020:

We have attended some operas in Houston. As you said at the end of this article, the musical production is a feast for the eyes as well as the ears. Those sculptures are fun to view. My favorite is the one of Falstaff.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on September 28, 2018:

I appreciate your visit and your kind comment a great deal, Tim.

Tim Truzy from U.S.A. on September 28, 2018:

Thanks Linda,

Indeed, I treasure operas. They majestically speak of the human condition and their stories are still told in varying degrees in other works recent and past.

Bravo on providing a synopsis for all of these wonderful operas.

I love the music and the images you provided.

Much respect and admiration,

Sincerely,

Tim

Afroditi Chaida on July 29, 2018:

You're welcome!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on July 29, 2018:

Thank you very much, Afroditi.

Afroditi Chaida on July 29, 2018:

Great article, Linda. Thanks for posting it. I love operas!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on November 18, 2017:

Thank you very much, Manatita. I appreciate your visit.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on November 18, 2017:

Hi, Colin. It's interesting to hear tunes from operas in other aspects of life. It's sometimes a surprise to hear the tunes in their original source, too!

Manatita44 on November 18, 2017:

You tell your stories well and they are enhanced by the music and stars or singers of genius.

Interesting sculptures brought to life by your well done hub.

colin powell from march on November 05, 2017:

This was interesting. I'm only just beginning to dip my toe into the sea where Opera is concerned. When I was clicking on the links and the music began to play, I recognised many of them. Especially 'The Barber of Seville' I have heard the tune and singing before. I know of the title. But I could not have put song and title together knowingly. That is until I saw your clip.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on October 28, 2017:

Thank you, Nithya. I love the sculptures too, as well as the music.

Nithya Venkat from Dubai on October 28, 2017:

Enjoyed reading about the operas, the photos are great. The sculptures have expressions that are captivating and unique. Thank you for sharing your experiences with us.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on October 16, 2017:

Hi, Larry. I appreciate your kind and interesting comment. I've become more interested in opera as I've got older, too. I listened to operas as a child because my mother loved them, but although I loved vocal music I wasn't very impressed by operas. They mean much more to me now.

Larry W Fish from Raleigh on October 16, 2017:

When I was a young man I could not stand listening to opera. Now that I am 69, and many years before I have come to love opera. I now see the beauty and the story that it brings. I guess that wisdom does come with age. A great article, Linda, I loved it.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on October 13, 2017:

Thanks, Nell. I think it's interesting to discover how many tunes from classical music have crossed over to other styles.

Nell Rose from England on October 13, 2017:

Awesome! how fascinating and interesting! and yes I laughed myself silly when you mentioned bugs bunny because I had thought of that, and of course Tom And Jerry! but on a serious note, it was something I knew nothing about, so nice one!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on October 05, 2017:

Hi, Mary. Thanks for the comment. I hope you enjoy the opera that you see.

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on October 05, 2017:

Linda, you have encouraged me to explore some of the operas here in Toronto. We will certainly go to one this Fall. It is indeed as you say a rewarding experience.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on September 26, 2017:

Thank you very much for such a kind comment, Chitrangada! I appreciate your congratulations a great deal. I hope you have a wonderful day, too.

Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on September 26, 2017:

Came back to congratulate you for the HP award!

This is the most well deserved award and once again my sincere Congratulations to you. HP is fortunate that you are writing for their website.

Have a great day!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on September 25, 2017:

Thank you very much, Jackie! I appreciate your visit and the congratulations.

Jackie Lynnley from the beautiful south on September 25, 2017:

Congratulations Linda on the Hubbie award!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on September 25, 2017:

Thank you so much, Dora! Congratulations to you, too. You certainly deserve your award!

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on September 25, 2017:

Hands down, you deserve the "Most Academic Hubber" Award more than anyone I know. Congratulations!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on September 21, 2017:

Thank you for such a kind comment, Chitrangada. I appreciate it a great deal.

Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on September 21, 2017:

Such an interesting display of sculptures and opera videos!

The sculptures look so real and full of life.

I loved going through your hub with interesting and entertaining information. Brilliant pictures and videos.

Thanks for sharing this wonderful hub!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on September 19, 2017:

Thank you, Larry.

Larry Rankin from Oklahoma on September 19, 2017:

Very informative.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on September 17, 2017:

Hi, Devika. Thank you very much for the comment!

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on September 17, 2017:

An amazing hub!! So interesting and with lovely photos.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on September 17, 2017:

Thank you for the comment, Dora. If you do explore opera on the Internet, I hope you enjoy it.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on September 17, 2017:

Very interesting, Linda. This article boosts appreciation for the artists and sculptures and their timeless contribution to the world. You gave me an idea of enjoying opera on the Internet. Thanks also for the pictures and the videos.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on September 16, 2017:

Hi, Flourish. Thanks for the visit. I'm glad I live near the garden. I live quite near a university with an opera department, too, so I can sometimes get reasonably priced tickets to see operas. I usually watch them on the Internet, though, which I enjoy.

FlourishAnyway from USA on September 16, 2017:

These are beautiful sculptures and you're so fortunate to have not only the gardens but also regular access to opera in your area. I've been to the opera many years ago but only recall how beautiful the music was, nothing else. The issue with being sung in Italian and having to read what was going on was a bit cumbersome but I enjoyed it anyway.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on September 15, 2017:

Hi, Rachel. Those two operas are often shown together. I'm glad you have happy memories of the time when you saw them.

Blessings to you as well. I hope you have an enjoyable weekend.

Rachel L Alba from Every Day Cooking and Baking on September 15, 2017:

Hi Linda, When I was about 19 my older cousin who lived in NYC at the time took me to an opera. We saw the one about Pagliacci and another one Rusticana Cavalieri (not sure about the spelling). It was a long time ago but I still remember how impressed I was. I loved it, but it was the last time I was ever at the opera house. Thank you for reminding me about that time. I loved the pictures.

Blessings to you.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on September 15, 2017:

Thanks, Heidi. The Italian Garden is lovely. It's not very big, but one nice thing about Hastings Park is that it contains several gardens and green areas to explore.

I hope you have a happy weekend, too.

Heidi Thorne from Chicago Area on September 15, 2017:

What an amazing sculpture garden, whether you're an opera fan or not! Something to add to a Vancouver visit for sure. Thanks for pointing out another wonderful site in your area! Happy Weekend!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on September 15, 2017:

Hi, Jackie. Thank you very much for the comment. I hope opera never dies, too.

Jackie Lynnley from the beautiful south on September 15, 2017:

I am opera illiterate but I do enjoy some of it very much. Thanks for the entertainment and information here. Opera is an important part of history I hope we are never forced to part with.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on September 15, 2017:

Thank you, Bill. I always appreciate your visits.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on September 15, 2017:

I'm not much for opera but I love sculptures, so thanks for taking me on this walk with you. I enjoyed the company. :)