16 maj 2009
90 – Gianni Schicchi by Giacomo Puccini
Gianni Schicchi is an opera in one act by Giacomo Puccini to an Italian libretto by Giovacchino Forzano, based on a story that is referred to in Dante’s The Divine Comedy. It is the third of the trio of operas known as Il trittico. Its first performance was at the Metropolitan Opera in 1918. The opera is best known for the soprano aria, O mio babbino caro (Oh, my dear papa), which has featured in a number of movies and other works.
Buoso Donati has died in bed. His relatives mourn melodramatically, until they hear the rumor that he has left all his money to the local monastery. They frantically search for the will. Rinuccio finds it, but refuses to release it to his aunt Zita until she agrees to his terms. If the will is favorable to them, she must allow him to marry Schicchi’s daughter, Lauretta. Schicchi is looked down on by the Donati family since he is a relatively new arrival in Florence. Zita consents (she does not care whom Rinuccio marries so long as the will leaves them rich), and reads the will, as Rinuccio quietly sends for Schicchi. When the will confirms the rumor, everyone is furious. They refuse to allow Rinuccio to marry, and angrily turn down his suggestion that Schicchi, who is known for his clever schemes, can aid them.
Schicchi and Lauretta arrive to a cold reception. Schicchi, seeing how downcast the relatives are, uncharitably assumes that Donati must be better. He is informed otherwise, and attempts to console the relatives by mentioning their inheritances. Zita, touched to the quick by Schicchi’s condolences, angrily explains the situation, and refuses to hear of a marriage. Rinuccio begs Schicchi to help. However, Schicchi, angered by his reception, refuses to help such people. He is persuaded to try by his daughter (O mio babbino caro). Schicchi reads the will, and proclaims that nothing can be done. But then, he has a thought, and Schicchi sends his daughter away so that she may be innocent of the knowledge of what he will suggest. Schicchi first orders the body to be moved to another room, and tells the women to make up the bed. He ensures that no one else knows of the death–but before he can explain, Donati’s doctor arrives. The doctor is prevented from entering by the relatives, while Schicchi imitates Donati’s voice, telling the doctor that Donati is feeling better. The doctor departs, praising his own skill. Schicchi explains, taking advantage of the darkened room and disguised as Buoso, he will impersonate Donati and dictate a new will.
Rinuccio goes to get the notary. The relatives mostly agree on the division of the property, except for Donati’s mule (the best in Tuscany), some windmills in Signa and the house they are in, the best assets. After a big fight they agree to let Schicchi decide who will inherit those items, but, one by one, they return to promise him a reward if he selects that person. Schicchi agrees to each bribe. Before the notary arrives Schichi reminds all of the penalty for impersonation and forgery of a will: loss of a hand and permanent exile from Florence.
The notary arrives with the witnesses. Schicchi dictates a will that provides for a very modest funeral, a minuscule sum to the monastery and the agreed-upon division, as the relatives speak approvingly. But one by one, Schicchi grants the mule, mills, and house to himself, to the relatives’ outrage. After the notary leaves, he throws everyone out and they are helpless to do anything except grab what they can on the way out the door. Now that Schicchi can give Lauretta a dowry, there is no obstacle to her marriage to Rinuccio. The lovers embrace, as Schicchi watches, moved. Schicchi turns to the audience and asks if this was not a fine use of Donati’s money. He then requests the audience’s indulgence, even if he did not receive Dante’s, pleading extenuating circumstances.
Gianni Schicchi, baritone
Lauretta, his daughter soprano
Zita, cousin of Buoso Donati contralto
Rinuccio, Zita’s nephew tenor
Gherardo, Buoso’s nephew tenor
Nella, Gherardo’s wife soprano
Gherardino, their son soprano
Betto di Signa, Buoso’s brother-in-law bass
Simone, cousin of Buoso bass
Marco, Simone’s son baritone
La Ciesca, Marco’s wife mezzo-soprano
Maestro Spinelloccio, a doctor bass
Ser Amantio di Nicolao, a notary baritone
Pinellino, a cobbler bass
Guccio, a dyer bass
A short thing on Il trittico
Around 1904, Puccini first began planning a set of one-act operas, largely because of the success of Cavalleria rusticana. Originally, he planned to write each opera to reflect one of the parts of Dante’s Divine Comedy. However, he eventually based only Gianni Schicchi on Dante’s epic poem. Puccini also intended that the three always be performed as a set, and indeed was infuriated when they were separated, but today it is quite common to see only one or two performed in an evening. One of the operas may also be paired with another one-act opera by a different composer, an arrangement that Puccini despised even more.
I’ve never seen any of the parts of Il trittico, I haven’ been very keen on it either. My father has seen it and claims that ”it was pretty boring, then comes a comedy with a wonderful aria in it”. The wonderful aria was of course O mio babbino caro. This aria has become a standard soprano piece, the fact that it’s so well known also mean that it has been mangled quite badly by non-opera singers. Since it’s a common concert piece it was actually quite hard to find a good stage performance of the aria. I also found this full scene of the writing of the testament. I think this is actually a very funny scene, but it’s only because of the subtitles. If you don’t understand what is being sung, I can understand that people find it boring. This is yet another example on why I think comical operas and comedies should be translated when performed, or else the humor is often lost on the audience.