“The stage is one thing and life itself another” sings Canio, the lead character of Ruggero Leoncavallo’s opera “I Pagliacci.”

The Savannah VOICE Festival (SVF) on Aug. 25 will present the world-renowned tale of love and intrigue alongside the premiere of a brand-new commissioned opera, “The Birthday Clown.”

Both operas share a theme exploring issues surrounding the construction of personal identity. When Canio, who plays the role of Pagliacci the Clown in a traveling theatre company becomes suspicious of his wife Nedda’s indiscretions, the play takes a shocking turn when the line between Canio’s identity and his role as Pagliacci becomes blurred.

 

Slightly similar to Canio is the main character of “The Birthday Clown” who struggles to define his personal identity after a perceived lack of professional success.

“The Birthday Clown” makes the third opera commissioned by the festival by Composer-in-Residence Michael Ching.

“The Birthday Clown is intended to be a contrast to Pagliacci as opposed to a companion piece.” Ching said. “When Maria (Zouves, festival co-founder and executive director) asked me to write this piece, she was wanting me to write something that felt like a Pixar short, something sweet and maybe a little quirky, so that’s what we went for.

“I’ve written a lot of shorter operas, but this is short even compared to those, it’s just 15 minutes long, but the first opera I was ever successful with was about a 10-minute production, so I guess I’ve always enjoyed the shorter forms.”

 

Ching was previously commissioned by SVF to compose both “Alice Ryley” and “Anna Hunter, the Spirit of Savannah” in years prior. Ching has been involved with SVF for five years now was introduced to the festival through his previous work with the festival’s founder Sherrill Milnes as early as the 1980s.

“The Birthday Clown” surrounds the story of a performer who finds himself unhappy with his job, Ching explained. “The main character wishes he were a little more famous, doing films in Las Vegas for grown-ups or something more serious. After he goes to a party that he’s booked to work, it turns out he’s miss-matched with the age group of the kids at the party, but, despite his expectations, there turns out to be at least one kid that appreciates his work.”

Ching says what he’s most looking forward to is hearing returning performer, Marco Nistico, playing the lead role. “I admire Marco’s work very much, so I was so glad to be able to include him in this piece,” Ching said. “He has a song that opens the show that I’m so excited to hear him perform.”

Ching also added spectators should “prepare to be surprised” as he plans to pull off “something we don’t think has ever been done in an operatic production before.”