I’ve never had a phobia about clowns, but I have to admit that a jealous clown with a knife gave me a few tense moments during the premiere of Pagliacci.

The “Opera on the Edge” production is staged in Shadowbox Live’s Backstage Bistro. Because much of the action takes place in the midst of the restaurant’s tables, I found myself just inches away from the skirmish that erupts when Canio (Clay Hilley) learns his wife, Nedda (Emily Brand), is having an affair.

Even though I assured myself that the actors were pros and that Canio’s knife was merely a stage prop (at least, I hoped it was), the scene was still a little scary.

But think about it: How often does opera offer such a visceral thrill to casual fans like myself? The experience illustrates the appeal of these co-productions of Shadowbox and Opera Columbus.

Just as they did with earlier productions of La Boheme and The Merry Widow, the troupes have shortened the opera, translated it into English and presented it in an informal setting, thus making it more understandable and accessible.

Written by Ruggero Leoncavallo and first presented in Milan in 1892, Pagliacci is a simple tale of infidelity and jealousy. It centers on a traveling theatrical troupe that consists of Canio, Nedda, Beppe (Paul Melcher) and the hunchbacked Tonio (Daniel Scofield).

In Act 1, Tonio declares his love for Nedda, but she only laughs at him and drives him off with a whip. It turns out her real passion is reserved for Silvio (Jeff MacMullen), a resident of the town where the troupe is performing. Learning of the illicit affair, Tonio tips off Canio, but Silvio escapes before he can be identified.

In Act 2, the troupe goes onstage to act out a comedy that is shockingly similar to real life, with Columbine (Nedda) preparing to cheat on clownish husband Pagliaccio (Canio). Canio, however, is too angry and grief-stricken to stick to the script. Before the curtain falls, the comedy has turned into a tragedy.

To patrons, especially true opera lovers, this truncated version of Pagliacci may come off as an appetizer rather than the main course. But that’s probably fine with Opera Columbus, which will offer the full-length opera (along with La voix humaine) in June 2015.

Meanwhile, the music is still beautiful, and it’s beautifully performed by the cast and its accompanist, pianist James Jenkins. Working under the direction of Stev Guyer, the actors give spirited portrayals that are suitably broadened for Act 2’s play-within-a-play.

When that happens, even the audience is invited to get involved by standing in for the play’s imaginary audience. The patrons are prompted with signs reading “Laugh,” “Applaud,” etc.

It’s one more way that Opera on the Edge helps to bridge the gap between viewers and this sometimes-daunting art form.

Opera Columbus and Shadowbox Live will present Pagliacci through Nov. 2 in the Backstage Bistro, 503 S. Front St. Show times are 4 p.m. Saturday and 5 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $10; for reservations, call 614-416-7625 or visit shadowboxlive.org. Special performances will be presented at 6 p.m. Thursday and Friday (Oct. 16-17) at the Refectory Restaurant & Bistro, 1092 Bethel Road. Tickets are $90 (including a four-course dinner); for reservations, call 614-451-9774.