Online opera guide and synopsis to Giacomo Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi
“From a musical point of view, Gianni Schicchi is Puccini’s most ingenuous and wittiest score. But that’s not all: As a theatrical oeuvre “Gianni Schicchi” belongs to the most perfect works in the history of Italian operas. Libretto, composition and Comedy form a perfect unity. Gianni Schicchi is a jewel of opera literature is at the height of Puccini’s compositional creativity.” (Uecker, Puccini’s operas)
Overview and quick access
♪ Act I
Roles and Synopsis
New York 1918
Giovacchino Forzano, based on Dante Alighieri's Divine Comedy.
The main roles
Gianni Schicchi, migrant farmer - Lauretta, his daughter - Rinuccio, lover of Lauretta, nephew of Buoso Donati - Zita, aunt of Rinuccio, cousin of Buoso Donati - Ser Amantio, notary public of Buoso Donati
CBS with Tito Gobbi, Placido Domingo and Ileana Cotrubas conducted by Lorin Maazel and the London Symphony Orchestra.
A part of a triptych
Together with the one-act operas “Suor Angelica” and “Il Tabarro”, Puccini has created a so-called tryptich with “Gianni Schicchi”, three operas which together offer a full-length program as one-act operas. “Gianni Schicchi” was the most popular of the three works from the beginning. While this piece has found its way into the repertoire of the opera houses, the same cannot be said of the other two, with the result that the tryptich as a whole is rarely performed.
The core of the story of “Gianni Schicchi” comes from the famous Divina Commedia by Dante Alighieri. The story of Gianni Schicchi has a true core. Dante’s wife Gemma is said to have been a born Donati and told her husband about her experience. And he quoted this story in a few verses in his Divina Commedia. His wife was a victim, which was the reason why Dante assigned Gianni Schicchi to the place in hell in his Divina Commedia (quoted in the 30th Song of the Inferno).
Puccini chose Forzano as librettist of Gianni Schicchi. His script is masterful and Puccini was able to set the libretto to music almost one to one. “What Puccini presented was a musical comedy whose macabre cynicism is unparalleled in opera literature. The scenes revolve in a scenic whirlwind, which in the end escalates into a true comedy tornado”. (Ücker, Puccini’s operas).
Forzano had a revolutionary streak. In addition to his enthusiasm for the French Revolution, the writer and singer also became involved in fascism and became one of the artistic figureheads of the movement, and was a personal friend of the “Duce” Benito Mussolini. In Forzano’s Gianni Schicchi there is a revolutionary who, as part of the “gente nuova” (the new man), fights against the established institutions (state, church, families).
A true musical comedy
Every actor knows that comedies are more difficult to play than tragedies. In this play, every role must be perfectly performed, a real ensemble performance is required. Every situation must bring a smile to the audience. The action that follows is concentrated in sixty minutes and takes place at a breathtaking pace, which gave the one-act play the reputation of being “like a presto movement of a symphony”. Only Lauretta’s “O mio babbino” in the middle of the opera is a lyrical resting point of the work.
Musically, Puccini also works with recurring short motifs, which are quoted again and again. In addition, Puccini deliberately plays with major and minor. While the passages sung by the outsiders (Schicchi, Lauretta, Rinuccio) are largely written in major, the family members sing predominantly in minor, with which Puccini wanted to unmask their hypocrisy.
The premiere took place in 1918 in New York. Due to the great distance, Puccini did not attend the performance, but concentrated on the European premiere in Rome the following month and the first performance in London. In all performances “Gianni Schicchi” was acclaimed, while “Il Tabarro” and “Suor Angelica” were given a reserved reception. Subsequently, for artistic reasons, Puccini strongly advocated that the Triptych be staged only as a whole in the theaters, but he could not prevent Gianni Schicchi from soon being performed in combination with other works.
GIANNI SCHICCHI ACT I
The first part – The testament of Buoso
Synopsis: 1299 in Florence. Many people have gathered in the sleeping rooms Buoso Donati’s house. They are his relatives, mourning in hypocritical sympathy for the deceased Buoso, who still lies dead in his bed. Everyone has an eye on the other and soon rumours spread that Buoso has bequeathed all his fortune to the monastery. Everyone looks questioningly at Simone, who was once mayor of Podesta. He says that if the will is in the hands of a notary, then nothing can be done. But … if it is still in the house, there might be a loophole.
Every actor knows that comedies are harder to play than tragedies. In this play every role has to be perfectly acted, a real ensemble performance is required. Every situation has to make the audience smile. The following plot is condensed in sixty minutes and written in breathtaking tempo.
Puccini begins with brief opening chords. The curtain rises and we hear the relatives’ mourning motif, which is often quoted during the opera:
The theme floats between major and minor and reveals the hypocrisy of the relatives with musical means. We are astonished to note that here we meet a transformed Puccini. It is no longer the Puccini of arias and melodies, but the filigree character draughtsman and accomplished comedian.
Synopsis: Everybody is feverishly searching for the document. Rinuccio finally finds it. He hopes that his uncle has bequeathed something to him. The legacy would allow him to marry his beloved Lauretta, the daughter of Gianni Schicchi. Everyone wants to tear the testament out of Rinuccio’s hands. He finally gives the document to Zita, his aunt, who opens it. Discovering that Buoso has bequeathed all the valuable goods to the monastery causes great consternation among the relatives. Now the tears are sincere. Everyone is at a loss what to do. Rinuccio suggests to seek advice from Gianni Schicchi, only he can save them. Everyone is outraged and doesn’t want to have anything to do with the country bumpkin and newcomer. Rinuccio secretly sends Gherardino to Gianni Schichi to get him.
Part 1 (00:00 – 15.13) – Pappano ROH
Rinuccio’s aria on Gianni Schicchi
Synopsis: Rinuccio makes a flaming speech for Gianni Schicchi. Yes, he is a out-of-towner and he is wily, but only he can save them with his cunning.
The piece in the style of a Tuscan folk song is demanding. Especially the second part is written in a high tessitura and leads twice to the high B. We hear this great tenor aria in two interpretations.
Domingo plays wonderfully with the words has a youthful dynamic and yet a warmth in the voice.
Avete torto … Firenze e come un albero fiorito (1) – Domingo/Maazel
The lyrical operas were Di Stefano’s territory. He sings the high parts of this aria wonderfully, and the ending B is beautiful and impressive.
Avete torto … Firenze e come un albero fiorito (2) – di Stefano
Gianni Schicchi appears and is rejected
Synopsis: Gianni Schicchi enters the house accompanied by his daughter Lauretta. He quickly grasps the situation. Zita wants to chase him and his daughter away. Schicchi has only contempt for this people and wants to leave, deeply offended. Lauretta and Rinuccio are desperate and see their wedding melt away.
Dante had an aversion to the newcomers, he quotes in his Divina Commedia, that the peasants in Florence had to be endured whose stench he could not stand and who were only intent on fraud. Thus Rinuccio’s singing does not correspond to the spirit of the poet, but arises from the opportunistic desire to marry Rinuccio’s Lauretta.
Part 2 (18:37 – 22:03) – Pappano / ROH
Laurettas kneels at her father – “O mio babbino caro”
Synopsis: Rinuccio appeals to his relatives to trust Schicchi and Lauretta asks her father to stay, otherwise she no more wants to live an will throw herself in the river Arno.
This aria is the only closed piece of this opera. It is a turning point from now on the deception begins to run.
The aria is very simple but absolutely deserves to be famous. At the begin of this aria Puccini notes the expression mark “ingenuo”, which means naive, trustful. The aria must be sung from the heart without artificial pathos. Of course there is also a portion of cunning behind it, because the young woman knows how to soften her father’s heart.
There are dozens of interpretations of this aria. To chose the best one is difficult. Caballé’s interpretation is famous and perhaps the most beautiful. The high notes flow breathtakingly, the mood is almost ethereal.
O mio babbino caro – Caballé
The interpretation by Elisabeth Schwarzkopf is touching. The most intimate of the recordings.
O mio babbino caro – Schwarzkopf
Schicchi’s cunning idea
Synopsis: Schicchi’s father’s heart melts and he starts reading the testament. Everyone gazes spellbound at him. No chance, he says. Absolutely no chance. As he continues reading, an idea comes to him. He sends his daughter away to protect her, she should not learn about the following machinations. He asks if no one else knows anything about Buoso’s death. All deny it. He gives the order to tidy the house and to hide the body. Suddenly there is a knock. The doctor Spineloccio is at the door. Schicchi gives the order to get rid of the doctor on the grounds that Buoso feels better and he wants to rest. But the doctor wants to see the patient and Schicchi calls with distorted voice from the next room that he is already better and he is falling asleep, the doctor should come back in the evening. Spinelloccio praises the progress of science and goes off. Schicchi triumphs. The voice imitation was perfect.
Schicchi explains the plan: he himself will go to bed and play Buoso. And then he lets the notary come and adapt the will. Everyone praises Schicchi’s cunning. The question of the distribution of the inheritance arises. A great quarrel breaks out over the mills of Signa. It is agreed that Schicchi should divide the inheritance fairly among the present people during the notary’s visit. Three women dress for bed, and each of the relatives tries to bribe Schicchi with a few fiorini so that he will give them a nice inheritance. Before the notary comes, Gianni Schicchi speaks a warning word to everyone. In the law is written that a severe punishment is applied for falsifying the will: the loss of the right hand and the banishment from Florence. The notary appears with witnesses. Schicchi quickly goes to bed and the light is dimmed. He calls out to the notary that his hand is paralyzed and that he cannot write, so he has called for the notary.
After the notary’s introductory words, he dictates the will. The monastery receives 5 lire. When the notary says that this is very little, Schicchi only says that otherwise, it would look like that he had a guilty conscience since the money had been stolen. Everyone approves of this hypocritically. He continues. He distributes the cash and the smaller goods evenly among the relatives. Everybody thanks him kindly. When it comes to the 3 big goods, he bequeaths them … to his good and faithful friend Gianni Schicchi. This causes a big turmoil. Schicchi says goodbye to the notary and chases the relatives out of the house. Rinuccio and Lauretta lie in each other’s arms and Schicchi looks satisfied at the happy lovers and pleas the spectator for extenuating circumstances for his devilment.
The legal instruction to punish testament forgers actually existed in Florence. Puccini wrote at this point a scenic instruction that Schicchi should hold the sleeve up without a hand. Abbate/Parker write critically in their opera guide that this was poor taste on Puccini’s part: “Written in Italy in 1918, after years of a brutal war, with wounded soldiers , often deprived of their limbs, who returned to their hometown.
Gianni Schicchi’s wily plan only works because he repeatedly plays the tune of “Addio Firenze”, which is supposed to remind relatives of the law of harsh punishment. Interestingly, in the 25th verse of his Divina Commedia, Dante quoted a Buoso Donati who had created his fortune in a roguish way and bequeathed it to the Church in the hope of grace. “Puccini’s sympathies apply to the protagonist, even if his conduct seems questionable from a moral point of view. In the end, it is not “good that triumphs over evil”, but “cunning over stupidity.” (Csampai/Holland, opera guide). So Gianni Schicchi apologizes to the audience at the end, and pleas for extenuating circumstances if the audience has at least amused itself.
Part 3 (24:10 – 55.13) – Pappano ROH
Recording recommendation of the opera GIANNI SCHICCHI
CBS with Tito Gobbi, Placido Domingo and Ileana Cotrubas under the direction of Lorin Maazel and the London Symphony Orchestra.
Peter Lutz, opera-inside, the online opera guide to GIANNI SCHICCHI by Giacomo Puccini.