Opera in 2 act
According to the old traditions of Italian theatre one of the actors comes to the audience and shortly retells the content of the performance.
A troupe of strolling actors arrives to the small provincial town in the south of Italy: the head of the troupe Canio (Pagliaccio), his young wife Nedda (Colombina), jester Beppe (Arlecchino) and Tonio (Servant).
Tonio declares his love to Nedda but actress does not take him seriously and even mock at him. Harbouring a grudge against Nedda, Tonio decides to revenge her. Catching Nedda with her lover, young peasant Silvio, Tonio warns her husband Canio and brings him to the meeting place right in the moment when Nedda and Silvio are arranging their escape. Enraged Canio demands that Nedda tell him the name of her lover, but she refuses.
Tonoi plans to keep an eye on Silvio who will attend the performance. Canio is depressed but he has to come out on the stage and hide his sorrows behind the jokes.
According to the storyline, Colombina betrays her husband. Canio tries to cheer up the audience but his grief is unconceivable and cannot be hidden behind the theatrical mask. No more can he restrain himself. No! Pagliaccio non son! He sings that if his face is pale, it is not from the stage makeup but from the shame she has brought him. The crowd, impressed by his emotional performance, which they do not realize is real, cheers him. Canio, grabbing a knife from the table, stabs Nedda. Silvio attacks Canio, but Canio kills Silvio also. The horrified audience then hears the celebrated final line: La commedia è finita! – “The comedy is finished!”