The Story Of The First Record That Sold A Million Copies
via Michal Wojdynski / Youtube
You’d be surprised to know that the first record to ever sold a million copies wasn’t all about rock n’ roll. Before rock music became the standard for sold-out albums and singles, there was one genre that started the craze: opera.
Per the Guinness Book of World Records, the title belongs to “Vesti La Giubba,” which, in English, translates to “put on the costume.” It was made by Ruggero Leoncavallo for his 1892 opera Pagliacci, and the Italian opera singer Enrico Caruso sang it. The first physical recording of the song was created in 1902. How it became massively popular was quite unusual, given that there was no technology present to hear the music and the only way to do so was to go listen to the singer live.
Moreover, given that opera was a hobby of the upper class, it was only accessible to those who could afford to go to the theater. At the end of the 19th century, the invention of photographic records helped Pagliacci find a more significant market for his masterpiece, and by the 1900s, he, along with Caruso found greater success through the song.
“Vesti La Giubba” is sung at the end of the first act, when Canio finds out that his wife has been cheating on him, but he still has to get ready to play Pagliaccio the Clown because “the show must go on.” The aria shows Canio’s pain and shows what it means to be a “tragic clown,” who smiles on the outside but is crying on the inside. This is still shown today since a common clown motif is a tear painted on the cheek of the performer. Theatergoers could unanimously agree that the aria is one of the most tear-jerking pieces of opera even today.
You can listen to the song below.