Searching at the same time for a realistic and tragic tale, Leoncavallo remembered a true story that his father, the magistrate, had told him - about an actor having assassinated his wife in an fit of jealousy. An ideal news item to use as topic for his opera.
Canio, the leader of a troop of actors, kills Nedda, his wife and Silvio, her lover out of jealousy. As of the prologue, the spectators are informed that the story which will be played in front of them is inspired by real facts, which the author wants to represent without fiction.
In this opera of a prologue and two acts, Leoncavallo mixes reality and theatrical fiction skilfully. What the troop of Canio plays in the evening is offstage. For Canio, the situation is difficult. He tries to dominate it. But the laughter of the spectators pokes at his jealousy. Reality erases the fiction. He will find his wife. he wants to make her speak. But, Nedda obstinately refuses to reveal the name of her lover. He kills her. Silvio, the lover, runs. Canio stabs him in turn. And thus the comedy of life ends.
Ruggero Leoncavallo, son of a magistrate, was born in Naples in 1858. At nine years, he is admitted to the conservatory. At eighteen, he began his first opera “Chatterton.”, Leoncavallo teaches piano and song to earn a living. He plays café concerts. In 1892, he writes Paillasse. It is a true triumph. From one day to the next, Leoncavallo is famous. He has been, since then, regarded as one of the masters of truthism. His operas are centered on the representation of daily reality. They are contrary to the romantic operas which abound at the time. In 1897, he leaves Bohemia. But his version is eclipsed by that of Puccini. In 1900, it is Zaza. An opera based on the life of a Parisian music-hall singer. The premier takes place in Milan and is directed by Toscanini. Success is again attained. Today, Leoncavallo is an internationally recognized composer. He represents of the truthist school. Paillasse and Zaza are regularly played on the largest international stages.