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GIACOMO PUCCINI (1850-1924):
GIANNI SCHICCHI

Synopsis

The story takes place in Florence in 1299 in the bedroom of Buoso Donati.

As Buosi Donati lies dead in his curtained four-poster bed, his relatives gather around him to mourn his passing. Their grief is just for show. In truth, they are more interested in learning the contents of his will than they are in honoring his memory. Among those present are his cousins Zita and Simone, his poor relation brother-in-law Betto, and Zita's nephew Rinuccio. Betto mentions the rumor that Buosi Donati has left everything to the Monastery of S Reparata. The news is disturbing to everyone. They frantically search for the will.

Rinuccio finds the document and is confident that his uncle has left him plenty of money. Withholding the will momentarily, he asks Zita's permission to marry Lauretta, daughter of Gianni Schicchi, a newcomer to Florence. Zita replies that if Buoso has left them rich, Rinuccio can marry anyone he wants. Everyone anxiously awaits the reading of the will. A broad theme, evolving in lyrical sequences, indicates the warmth of Rinuccio's feelings. A happy Rinuccio bribes little Gherardino to fetch Schicchi and Lauretta.

As the will is read, the relatives' worst fears become a reality. Buoso has indeed bequeathed his fortune to the monastery. Everyone breaks out in woe and indignation. They turn to Simone, the oldest present, and a former mayor of Fucecchio. He can't help. Rinuccio suggests that only Gianni Schicchi can advise them on the next steps. Zita and the rest mock the suggestion, sneering at Schicchi's humble origins and now saying that marriage to the daughter of such a peasant is out of the question.

Rinuccio disagrees and defends Schicchi in an aria: "Avete torto!..Firenze e come un albero fiorito" ("You're mistaken!", followed by "Florence is like a blossoming tree" ("You're mistaken"). The aria introduces a motif that is associated with Schicchi's cunning. Its concluding section compares the city to a tree that draws its sustenance from the surrounding countryside. Schicchi and Lauretta arrive. Schicchi quickly grasps the situation, and Rinuccio begs for his help. Zita wants no part of this strategy and rudely orders Schicchi to "be off" and take his daughter Lauretta with him. Rinuccio and Lauretta listen in despair as Schicchi announces that he will have nothing to do with such people. Lauretta makes a final plea to him, singing the famous "O mio babbino caro" ("Oh, my dear papa"). Finally, Schicchi agrees to look at the will. After scrutinizing it twice, he concludes that nothing can be done. Suddenly, he comes up with an idea. He sends his daughter outside so that she will be innocent of what is to follow.

First, Schicchi establishes that nobody other than those who are present knows that Buoso is dead. He then orders the body removed to another room. A knock on the door announces the arrival of Spinelloccio, the doctor. Schicchi conceals himself behind the bed curtains, mimics Buoso's voice, and declares that he is feeling better. He asks the doctor to return that evening. Boasting that he has never lost a patient, Spinelloccio departs. Schicchi unveils his plan in the aria "Ah, che zucconi! Si corre dal notaio" ("Oh, what blockheads! Run to the notary"). Having established in the doctor's mind that Buoso is still alive, Schicchi will disguise himself as Buoso and dictate a new will.

Continue

(continued)

All are delighted with the scheme. They beg Schicchi with personal requests for Buoso's various possessions, the most treasured of which are the mule, the house, and the mills at Signa. A funeral bell rings, and everyone fears that the news of Buoso's death has emerged. It turns out that the bell is tolling for the death of a neighbor's Moorish servant. The relatives agree to leave the disposition of the mule, the house, and the mules up to Schicchi, although each, in turn, offers him a bribe. The women help Schicchi change into Buoso's clothing, singing the lyrical trio "Spogliati, bambolino" ("Undress, little boy"). This trio has been compared with Verdi's Falstaff and Wagner's Rhinemaidens. Before Schicchi takes Buoso's place in the bed, he warns the company of grave punishment for those found to have falsified a will: amputation of one hand and then exile from Florence. Obediently, the group sings a mock lament: "Addio Firenze, addio, Cielo divino."

Rinuccio arrives with the notary, Ser Amantio di Nicolao, and two witnesses, Guccio and Pinellino. The formalities begin the occasion, and everyone echoes universal praise for Buoso's generosity. Schicchi starts to dictate the new will, declaring any prior will null and void. To general satisfaction, he allocates the minor bequests. When it comes to the mule, the house, and the mills, he orders that these be left to "my devoted friend Gianni Schicchi." The family is incredulous. They can do nothing while the lawyer is present, especially when Schicchi slyly reminds them of the penalties that will result if the ruse is discovered. Their outrage when the notary leaves is accompanied by a frenzy of looting as Schicchi chases them out of what is now his house.

Meanwhile, Lauretta and Rinuccio sing a love duet: "Lauretta mia, staremo sempre qui!" ("Lauretta mine, here we'll always stay"). Since Schicchi can now provide a respectable dowry, there is no longer a bar to their marriage. Schicchi returns and stands moved at the sight of the two lovers. He turns to the audience and asks them to agree that no better use could be found for Buoso's wealth. Although the poet Dante has condemned him to hell for the trick, Schicchi asks the audience for forgiveness in light of "extenuating circumstances."

Highlights of the Opera

  • Gianni Schicchi is a one-act comic opera with an Italian libretto by Giovacchino Forzano. The libretto is based on an incident mentioned in Dante's Divine Comedy. Thework is the third and final part of Puccini's. Il trittico (The Triptych), three one-act operas with contrasting themes, originally written to be presented together. Although Gianni Schicchi continues to be performed with one or both of the other trittico operas, it is now more frequently staged either alone or with short operas by other composers. One of the operas for which it has frequently been a curtain raiser is Strauss's Salome. The aria "O mio babbino caro" is one of Puccini's best known, and one of the most popular arias in opera.
  • The popularity of the one-act opera was common in Italy following the 1890 competition sponsored by publisher Edoardo Sonzogno for the best such work. The winner was Pietro Mascagi's Cavalleria rusticana. Having completed Tosca and Madama Butterfly, Puccini, too, turned to the possibility of creating not only one short work, but a set of one-act operas that would be performed together in a single evening. Challenged by both a lack of suitable subjects and opposition from his publisher, he repeatedly put the project aside. However, by 1916, Puccini had completed the one-act tragedy, Il tabarro. After considering various ideas, he began work the following year on the solemn, religious, all-female opera Suor Angelica. Gianni Schicchi, a comedy, completes the triptych with a further contrast of mood. The score combines elements of Puccini's modern style of harmonic dissonance with lyrical passages that are reminiscent of Rossini. It has been praised for its inventiveness and imagination.
  • Il trittico premiered at New York's Metropolitan Opera on December 14, 1918. Gianni Schicchi became an immediate hit, while the other two operas were received with less enthusiasm. One critic noted that the opera was "received with uproarious delight." The same pattern was broadly repeated at the Rome and London premieres and led to commercial pressures to abandon the less successful elements. For artistic reasons, Puccini initially opposed presenting any of the three operas separately. By 1920, he had given his reluctant consent to separate performances. Gianni Schicchi has subsequently become the most-performed part of Il trittico. At the Metropolitan Opera, the three operas were not presented together again until 1975.
  • Gianni Schicchi de' Cavalcanti was a 13th-century Italian knight, a Florentine historical figure mentioned by Dante in the Inferno, Canto XXX. In that canto, Dante visits the Circle of Impersonators and sees a man savagely attacking another. He is informed that the attacker is Schicchi, condemned to Hell for impersonating Buoso Donati and for making his will highly favorable to Schicchi.
  • The plot used in the opera derives from an 1866 edition of The Divine Comedy by the philologist Pietro Fanfani, which contained an appendix with a commentary attributed to an anonymous Florentine of the 14th century. In this version, Buoso wishes to make a will, but is put off doing so by his son, Simone. Once it is too late, Simone fears that Buoso, before his illness, may have made a will that is unfavorable to him. Simone calls on Schicchi for advice, and Schicchi comes up with the idea of impersonating Buoso and making a new will. Although Simone promises Schicchi that he will be well rewarded, Schicchi takes no chances, "leaving" a considerable sum and Buoso's mule to himself (although most goes to Simone). He also makes the bequests conditional on Simone's distributing the estate within fifteen days. If the deadline is not met, everything will go to charity.
  • Both Schicchi and Buoso Donati were historical characters. Both Dante's verse and the opera are based on an actual incident that took place in 13th century Florence. Dante had several reasons for his harsh treatment of Schicchi. First, Dante's wife, Gemma, was of the Donati family. Dante himself was of pure Florentine descent. He despised members of the peasant class such as Schicchi. Dante's class prejudice displays itself in several episodes in the Inferno. In one, three noble Florentines, who have died and gone to Hell, ask Dante for news of their home city. A disgusted Dante tells them that the city is now dominated by the nouveau riche. 
  • According to Burton Fisher, both Puccini and Forzano borrowed heavily from the commedia dell'arte tradition in Gianni Schicchi. (Note: Commedia dell'arte tradition was popular in Italian professional theater between the 16th and 18th centuries. It combines fixed script with improvisation and is characterized by fixed social types and stock characters. One of the most common characters is a know-it-all doctor). Schicchi himself recalls the roguish Harlequin, while his daughter Lauretta, whose romance is nearly foiled by Buoso's relatives, resembles Columbina. Simone is drawn from Pantaloon, and the poverty-stricken Betto recalls the buffoonish valet Zanni. Doctor Spinelloccio recalls the classic doctor from the commedia dell'arte,  Balanzone, even to his Bolognese origin.  The Moor whose death momentarily scares the relatives and his captain are stock characters from commedia dell'arte.
  • With respect to the music, Puccini's score is built around a series of motifs that recur throughout the opera. Generally, they represent characters, situations, and moods. Sometimes there are specific associations. The juxtaposition of the humorous and the solemn is present throughout the work, keeping the audience suspended between the comic and the tragic. Several critics have compared Gianni Schicchi with Verdi's Falstaff. Both are masterpieces of operatic comedy from composers who are most associated with tragedy. Both composers took the conventions of comic opera into consideration, choosing a baritone for the principal role and setting the tenor-soprano love story against family opposition to the marriage. In both operas there is a hoax that permits a happy ending.

Class Schedule — Your Choice!

  • February 13, 2024: Handel's Rodelinda
  • February 20, 2024: Tchaikovsky's Pique Dame
  • February 27, 2024: Borodin's Prince Igor
  • March 5, 2024: Hermann Prey, Jussi Bjorling, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Enrico Caruso
  • March 12, 2024: Thomas Quastoff, Ryan Speedo Green, Benjamin Bernheim, Lise Davidsen, Renee Fleming

About this Website

The website contains links to the music we will hear and other background information.

Questions and Additional Information

Please reach out to Instructor Margie Satinsky with questions and requests for additional information. Contact information is: (919) 383-5998 (home/work), or (919) 812-2235 (cell/text), or margiesatinsky@icloud.com.