by Giacomo Puccini
Libretto by Giovacchino Forzano
Based on Canto XXX of Dante’s Inferno
Giuseppe De Luca, the first Gianni Schicchi,
Metropolitan Opera, 1918
|Lauretta, his daughter||Soprano|
|Rinuccio, Buoso Donati’s nephew, in love with Lauretta||Tenor|
|Zita, Buoso’s cousin||Contralto|
|Simone, Buoso’s cousin||Bass|
|Gherardo, Buoso’s nephew||Tenor|
|Nella, Gherardo’s wife||Soprano|
|Marco, Simone’s son||Baritone|
|La Ciesca, Marco’s wife||Mezzo-Soprano|
|Gherardino, their son||Soprano/child|
|Betto, Buoso’s brother-in-law||Baritone|
|Maestro Spinelloccio, a physician||Bass|
|Ser Amantio di Nicolao, a notary||Baritone|
|Pinellino, a cobbler||Bass|
|Guccio, a dyer||Bass|
Gianni Schicchi is set in Florence in 1299. In Dante’s Inferno, Canto XXX (lines 22-44), Gianni Schicchi — who actually existed, as did the Donati family — is found with other forgers and cheats in the Eighth Circle of Hell, naked, berserk, and tearing with his teeth the flesh of the other denizens of the underworld.
Part of the Donatis’ great house, so coveted in the opera, still stands in Florence today, a crumbling tower on the Via del Corso, very close to the house where Dante was born in 1265 (Dante’s house was reconstructed in the 19th Century and is now a museum). Dante, in fact, married Gemma Donati in 1295, five years after his beloved muse, Beatrice Portinari, died. Beatrice is buried in the Church of Santa Margherita in Florence; people still leave flowers for her today. Dante was exiled from Florence in 1301, and died in Ravenna in 1321.
Wealthy Buoso Donati has just died, and his relatives are vying to express the most grief. But the weeping and wailing soon give way to alarmed rumor-mongering, as poor-relation Betto starts to spread the news that at Signa they are saying that Buoso has left everything to the monks. Everyone turns to old Simone, Buoso’s brother-in-law (who is not only the eldest, but also was once Mayor of Fucchecchio), who advises that if the will is still in that room, they might just have some hope.
A frantic search begins. At last young Rinuccio, Buoso’s nephew, triumphantly announces that they are saved, for he has found the will. But he will not give it up unless his aunt Zita, Buoso’s cousin, promises to let him marry Lauretta, daughter of Gianni Schicchi, on the first of May. Zita doesn’t give a damn whom he marries, as long as the will leaves them all well off. Rinuccio whispers to little Gherardino to run and get Gianni Schicchi and Lauretta.
Zita solemnly opens the will, prompting more grief — and whispered greed for Buoso’s treasures: the house, the mills at Signa, and the mule. Simone tenderly lights candles for the deceased. Together they silently read the will, soon giving way to cries of dismay. Simone blows out the candles. It’s true: Buoso has left everything to the monks of Santa Reparata. They bitterly imagine all the luxuries the monks will enjoy, all the while laughing at the Donatis.
The laughter ends in tears; Zita can’t believe that when Buoso died, they’d be crying real tears. Suddenly, an idea occurs to them: perhaps there is a way to get around the will. Once again they ask Simone’s advice, but Rinuccio chimes in with the suggestion that Gianni Schicchi can help them. Zita will not hear of it. But Gherardino returns with the news that Schicchi is on his way. The relatives all attack Rinuccio for his presumption, and Gherardino gets a spanking from his father, Gherardo.
Simone and Zita strongly object to a marriage between a Donati and the daughter of an upstart like Schicchi. But Rinuccio points out that clever men like Schicchi (and Arnolfo and Giotto and the Medici), “new people” from the outskirts of the city, are and will continue to be the making of Florence (“Firenze è come un albero fiorito”).
Schicchi arrives, Lauretta in tow. He cynically comments under this breath on how downcast the Donatis look as Lauretta and Rinuccio whisper together lovingly. Schicchi, in best undertaker tone, expresses his sorrow for the family’s great loss. Gherardo retorts that the loss is great indeed. Schicchi points out that they’ll have the comfort of the inheritance, prompting Zita to bitterly inform him that they’ve been disinherited, and will he please remove himself and his daughter, as she will not have her nephew marry a girl without a dowry. Lauretta and Rinuccio plaintively cry out that they love each other, but neither Schicchi nor Zita will hear it. A shouting match ensues between Schicchi and Zita as they attempt to pull the lovers apart. The relatives urge them to think of the will instead. Rinuccio begs Schicchi to help them find a way to save the inheritance, but he absolutely refuses. Lauretta then pleads with her father, threatening to throw herself in the Arno if she cannot marry the man she loves (“O mio babbino caro”).
The doting Schicchi cannot resist her. He studies the will and pronounces that there’s nothing to be done. But then an idea comes to him. He sends Lauretta out of the room (alone), and then questions the relatives: Does anyone else know that Buoso is dead? No one. He then orders Gherardo and another of Buoso’s nephews, Marco, to remove Buoso’s body to another room, and orders the women to re-make the bed. As they comply, still confused as to Schicchi’s intentions, there is a knock at the door. He warns them to make sure no one comes in, and to tell whoever it is that Buoso is better and is resting. Schicchi hides behind the bed.
Maestro Spinelloccio, the doctor, has arrived. The relatives hastily inform him that Buoso is better. They stop him from coming in, saying that Buoso is resting. Suddenly a strange voice issues from the bed, asking the doctor to come back later. The doctor agrees and asks if he’s feeling better. “I’ve risen from the dead,” says the fake Buoso, and the doctor goes away satisfied and pluming himself on his medical ability, acquired from the Bologna Medical School.
Schicchi asks them how the voice sounded — great, they say. Schicchi is triumphant, but they still don’t understand. He explains what they must do: run to the notary, tell him Buoso is dying and wants to make his will, bring the parchment and come quickly. The notary arrives, the room is dark, and in the bed he sees the figure of Buoso, complete with cap and chin strap — except that the figure will be Schicchi, impersonating Buoso, and making the will. It is the greatest deception he has ever conjured up.
The relatives rush to kiss and embrace him and each other. Zita sends Rinuccio for the notary. Then they get down to the business of dividing up the spoils. The cash will be split equally. Simone wants the farms at Fucecchio; Zita, those at Figline; Betto, those at Prato. Gherardo and his wife, Nella, want the lands at Empoli; Marco and his wife, La Ciesca, those at Quintole. Zita points out that what’s left are the mule, the house, and the mills at Signa — the most valuable things. Simone pretends to understand that, because he’s the eldest and was Mayor of Fucecchio, they want to give them to him. This prompts more bickering among the relatives as Schicchi mocks them. The quarrel comes to a halt when a funeral bell tolls. They immediately conclude that the news of Buoso’s death has somehow gotten out. Gherardo rushes out to see, and soon returns with the happy news that the captain’s servant has had an accident. They gaily pray that he may rest in peace.
Simone suggests that they leave the matter of the house, the mule, and the mills to Schicchi’s discretion. As Zita, Nella, and La Ciesca begin to dress him in Buoso’s nightclothes, the bribery begins. Each of them secretly offers Schicchi increasingly large sums if he will leave the goodies to him or her. He agrees every time. The women laud Schicchi as their savior. His disguise is pronounced perfect, and now it’s off to bed.
First, however, Schicchi gives them warning: the law in Florence is that whoever forges a will gets his hand cut off and is exiled (“Addio Firenze”). Another knock interrupts this sobering moment. Schicchi scrambles into bed. Rinuccio announces the arrival of the notary, Ser Amantio di Nicolao, and the witnesses, Guccio the dyer and Pinellino the cobbler. “Buoso” greets them gratefully, prompting Pinellino to weep. “Buoso” explains that he would have written out the will himself, but he suffers from palsy, which he demonstrates by wildly shaking his hands. The relatives and the notary pity him.
The notary pompously reads the Latin preamble, “Buoso” interrupting to revoke all prior wills (which the relatives consider quite prudent). The notary asks about funeral expenses; “Buoso” wants them to spend no more than two florins, prompting the relatives to praise his modesty. Now “Buoso” pronounces his legacy to the monks and to Santa Reparata: only five lire. The relatives are beside themselves with joy, but the notary is a bit skeptical. “Buoso” explains that if he left too much to charity, people would say that it was dirty money.
“Buoso” now keeps his promises as to the cash in hand and the various farms and lands. Now it comes down to the mule, the house, and the mills — each of which he leaves to his dear friend Gianni Schicchi. The horrified relatives cannot fully express their fury (keeping in mind the penalty for forging a will), but their grumbling forces the outraged notary to silence them. “Buoso” orders Zita to pay the fees for the notary and the witnesses, who depart in sorrow, urging the fuming relatives to take courage.
The relatives turn on Schicchi in a rage and begin to loot the place before he chases them out. Meanwhile, Rinuccio and Lauretta enter and tenderly recall how they shared their first kiss at Fiesole, with Florence seeming like a paradise in the distance. Schicchi returns, carrying some of the loot he managed to grab back from the Donatis. Moved at the sight of the happy lovers, he turns to the audience and asks, “Tell me, ladies and gentlemen, if Buoso’s money could end up better than this? For this bit of fun, they stuck me in hell.... and so be it. But with the permission of the great father Dante, if this evening you’ve been amused, grant me” — he claps — “extenuating circumstances.” He bows gracefully as the curtain comes down.
©2000 Linda Cantoni