Cinnabar Theatre pairs the classic tragic opera Pagliacci with some real clowns in Rhapsody of Fools in a double-bill that opens this Saturday night. Artistic Director Elly Lichenstein explains the original decision to enlist the aid of James Pelican and his trio Clowns on a Stick was a practical one – but it led to new discoveries.

The setting of Pagliacci is behind the scenes at a travelling show with Commedia dell’arte clowns, and so instead of making the frequent pairing of the opera with the one-act Cavelleria Rusticana (Cav-Pag, as the combination is known), Lichenstein went another direction. “I decided, because I have very dear friends who happen to be in clown world, and I approached them and said, ‘Create something as a curtain raiser for us.'” Part of the decision was because a second opera meant a second full set, for which they didn’t have the budget… the funding of Rhapsody of Fools was raised through a Kickstarter campaign.  “We are the stage crew for an opera that’s showing up to perform beforehand, but the singers and musicians have been way-laid, so we actually have to be the musicians and the singers, which gets problematic real fast,” Pelican says. He provides continuity for the two halves, by also staging the play within the opera, and appearing as a non-speaking clown. “I’m this silent character that is the confidant of Nedda, who is the wife of Canio, who is really trying to free herself from his grip. We really get a sense of her innocence, that even though she’s lived this hard life, that she has this very tender part, she has the aria about the birds, and so I’m on stage with her, and she sings that aria to me as a clown.”