Composer Profile: Ruggero Leoncavallo, The Man Behind ‘Pagliacci’

By David Salazar

Ruggero Leoncavallo, born on April 23, 1857, is renowned today because of the success of his very first opera.

The composer showed great abilities as a pianist from a young age and spent some time in Egypt as a pianist and teacher. However, he quickly departed to Paris when revolts broke out. In France’s capital city, Leoncavallo secured work as an accompanist and instructor for artists performing in cafes. He got married during this time and after some success, he returned to Italy to kickstart his career as an opera composer.

But things changed with the arrival of his “Pagliacci,” which became a major success around the world, appearing in Milan in 1892 and then finding a place at virtually every opera house around the world thereafter. While he continued creating operas, he never found the same success that he found with “Pagliacci,” and many of his works are seldom produced or performed.

In sum he composed 11 operas and a number of operettas.

He died on August 9, 1919.

Major Work

Leoncavallo’s career and legacy is defined by “Pagliacci,” which is his most celebrated work, by a country mile. While he did create other works of notice, this is the one that his name will be tied to for the foreseeable future.

Read More on Leoncavallo

A Look At His Other Operas

Get to Know “Pagliacci”

Watch and Listen

Check out this video recording of “Pagliacci.”

Here is a recording of his rarely performed “La Bohème.”


Opera Wiki