Caruso was the first gramophone star to sell more than a million copies with his 1907 recording of 'Vesti la giubba' from the opera 'Pagliacci' by Ruggero Leoncavallo. Here are his recordings from 30th of November 1902, 1st of February 1904 and 17th of March 1907.
Vesti la giubba is regarded as one of the most moving arias in the operatic repertoire. The pain of Canio (Caruso) is portrayed in the aria and exemplifies the entire notion of the 'tragic clown': smiling on the outside but crying on the inside. This is still displayed today as the clown motif often features the painted on tear running down the cheek of the performer.
The opera recounts the tragedy of a jealous husband.
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Text of the aria in Italian:
Recitar! Mentre preso dal delirio!
Non so più quel che dico
e quel che faccio!
Eppur è d'uopo sforzati!
Bah! Sei tu forse un uom?
Tu sei Pagliaccio!
Vesti la giubba
Ela faccia infarina.
La gente paga e rider vuole qua.
E se Arlecchin t'invola Colombina,
ridi, Pagliaccio, e ognun applaudirà!
Tramuta in lazzi
lo spasmo ed il pianto;
in una smorfia il singhiozzo
e'l dolor! Ah!
sul tuo amore infranto.
Ridi del duol che t'avvelena il cor.
To act, with my heart saddened with sorrow.
I know not what I'm saying or what I'm doing.
Yet I must face it.
Courage, my heart!
You are not a man;
you're but a jester!
On with the motley,
the paint and the powder.
The people pay you and want their laugh,
If Harlequin your Columbine has stolen,
laugh, Punchinello! The world will cry 'Bravo!'
Go hide with laughter
your tears and your sorrow,
sing and be merry, playing your part.
for the love that is ended.
Laugh for the sorrow
that is eating your heart.