It's as dramatic a portrayal of Pagliacci as you’ve seen, despite the fact that there’s no music. The askew playbill image of the clown — leaning on his drum, his right hand clutching a formidable stick, a single painted tear falling from one of his eyes — is pinned by a deeply plunged, blood-releasing dagger. The drawing calls up at once the tragedy of Ruggero Leoncavallo’s familiar opera, but it carries something more: the graphic terror of horror comics.
Welcome to The P. Craig Russell Library of Opera Adaptations, a three-volume collection of the respected graphic illustrator’s takes on operatic stories. Recently reissued by graphic-arts publisher NBM, the books reflect not only Russell’s classic-comic and illustration influences but also his love of story and music. Done over a period of some 30 years, the volumes include, in addition to I Pagliacci, adaptations of Parsifal, Ariane and Bluebeard, and Pelléas et Mélisande, with illustrations of lyrics to songs by Gustav Mahler and Hugo Wolf. One volume is dedicated to Mozart’s The Magic Flute. Volume 3, which includes a Godfather-influenced reading of Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana, sports a cover that shows Salome dancing as a shadowy arm lifts a bloody platter bearing the head of Jochanaan.
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